by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
ABET opened the musical “Once On This Island” at its theatre in Atlantic Beach Florida at 716 Ocean Boulevard. It will run through March 30. Call 249-7177 or visit abetheatre.com for reservations.
This musical, with its interesting characters and a fascinating story line, opened on Broadway in 1990 and received several Tony nominations including Best Musical. It did not win but then competition was especially tough that year, with “Miss Saigon” and “The Will Rogers Follies.” You may have seen it in Jacksonville as Theatre Jacksonville did it fifteen years ago and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts also did a brief run. You won’t want to miss the creative staging of this marvelous musical as directed by Caryl Butterley.
The book and the lyrics are by Lynn Ahrens, with music by Stephen Flaherty, the team that did “Ragtime” and “Seussical”. The story behind the inspiration for the musical is an interesting one. In 1989, Ahrens had finished work on the Off-Broadway farce “Lucky Stiff” and was searching for new ideas for future musicals. While looking through a stack of used books at a Barnes and Noble store, she found “My Love My Love,” a slender novel published in 1985 by Rosa Guy. The story sounded promising and the $1.50 price was right, so she bought it. She read it to Steven Flaherty, who liked it and immediately began composing music for it. The rest is history.
The play is set on a beautiful island and concerns a pretty girl named Ti Moune, played as a youngster by LOLOVIVI BLANDIN, a delightful and talented second grader. Ti Moune as a young woman is played by RAKIA JACLAR MAY, who brings a wealth of stage experience to this role, having performed at Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World in Orlando. Hers is indeed a marvelous performance.
Ti Moune is orphaned as a child by a fierce storm and is found and raised by an older couple, Mama Euralie (TONI PHILIPS) and Tonton Julian (JIM MOODY), who are impoverished peasants with expansive hearts . This is Ms. Philips first major singing role in this area. She was previously in the chorus of “Pippin” but really spreads her vocal wings in this show and sings quite well. This is Mr. Moody’s first acting role in twenty years, after having previously been active in the theatre community in Gainesville and at the University of Florida.
Ti Mourne wants more out of life than the small village of her adoptive parents can offer. When the son of a wealthy Creole family crashes his car near her home, she tends to his wounds while he recuperates and along the way she falls in love. Daniel is played by Jacksonville University student ADRIAN TRÉJO who also was the co-choreographer of this show with NATALIE ROSADA.
Ti Moune is warned by her parents and by the gods not to fraternize with the rich residents of another class. When Daniel is well he returns to his family and Andrea, his attractive aristocratic French fiancée (KATE POWELL). Ti Moune travels to the other side of the island to be with Daniel, but at this point, we will leave the outcome of the story for you to discover when you see the show.
Ti Moune’s love life was overseen by powerful mythical gods, who expressed their observations and intentions in song. Playing the gods are: Papa Ge, the Demon of Death (HECTOR LUIS GONZALEZ TORO), Agwe, God of Water (IAAN QUINTANILLA), Erzulie, Godess of Love (CANDACE ELAINE CRUMP),and Asaka, Goddess of Earth (TARRA CONNER JONES).
Vocal power from each and everyone in the cast filled the stage and this is important since except for a few lines everything is done in song. Each of the characters gets to sing a solo, which is indeed rare in most musicals. All songs are very hummable and the show stopping number on opening night was “Mama Will Provide” featuring the goddess Asaka and the entire cast.
The superb orchestra tucked away back stage was under the direction of Musical Director Zeek Smith, also on keyboards and percussion. Other musicians included Daniel Dickinson, reeds and percussion; Damon Martin, bass and percussion; and Landon Baker, percussion. The Caribbean style music was played to perfection.
The set is an open stage with the rear wall painted with things tropical by Scenic Artist Carole George. Bryan Frank’s lighting design used colorful lights to go along with the eye popping costumes by Amy Tillotson, in a rainbow of bright island hues.
Director Caryl Butterley lived and worked in New York for a number of years before coming back to Jacksonville. She had seen “Once On This Island” a number of times in NYC and it was one of her all-time favorites and one she always wanted to direct. Working with a gifted cast, inspired choreographers, and very talented musicians, Ms. Butterley made this intimate stage come to life in the fastest non-stop ninety minutes you have ever experienced in a theatre. Bring the kids, they will love it. It is a heart warming story, and all that contagious cast energy will leave you with smiles, smiles, and smiles.
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM