Once on this Island – Take Me Away
A REVIEW BY PANDORA LOCKS
Friday, October 14th, 2016 was an evening of mashups. I entered the auditorium at Epiphany Lutheran Church and immediately flashed back to middle school, be it with a somewhat nicer stage and (hopefully) no threat of an errant dodgeball. And, luckily, no one made me climb a rope. Instead, I was treated to a treat that made me (mostly) forget I was in a dingy gym on an uncomfortable folding chair. Just Off Broadway wants to transport you to the tropics with their Once On This Island, and I will say that, though far from perfect, it was pretty breezy and lovely there.
As the cast takes the stage, the singing is forceful but unfortunately not quite enough to mesh super well with the pit. Patty Delisle, the musical director, and Randy Noppinger, sound board op, adjusted, and as the show continued, I found the voices easier to hear. The band is not named or listed in the program [Yikes, this seems like a major oversight! Pit bands work hard for the money, which is usually none – TBO]. But there was clearly a four or five-person ensemble playing on the left side of the auditorium. Could be that opening night sound just needed some tweaks, but there was also awful amount of feedback in the mics which, again, was corrected as the night went on.
The four island gods, Patrick Jay Golden (Agwe, God of Water), N’Shira Gray (Erzulie, Goddess of Love), Jason Crawford Samios-Uy (Papa Ge, Demon of Death), and Emily Wesselhoff (Asaka, Mother of the Earth) wear masks representing their respective elements. Their combined harmony, synced dance moves (excellent choreography by Katie Gerstmyer), and all white palate (except Samios-Uy, who was in black) is well done as a backdrop to the story of Ti Moune (portrayed as a child by Joyanne Gohl and as a teenager by Caelyn Sommerville). These four actors also double as the “storytellers”, performing interpretive dance while other characters interact, which could go unbearably cheesy but is saved by precision. They are coherent, complimentary, and although they don’t get much down time, (they’re in, like, every scene), work together beautifully. Shout out to Jason Crawford Samios-Uy for that demonic cackle; it’s goosebumps on point.
Ti Moune is, at the beginning of the story, stranded in the tree and found by islanders of the French Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. After the plot is established, the tree in the center rotates to reveal a young adult version of Ti Moune. She’s a peasant girl who saves a rich boy, Daniel, (Brand Angst) with whom she eventually falls for. The gods who rule the island don’t believe this status switch up, though, and cast a bet that ultimately cuts the path to true love. The rotating tree is a clever device, but the inclusion of Joyanne Gohl in several scenes toward the end of the play feels odd. I mean, older Ti Moune is still there singing and her younger self sort of shows up at odd moments without explanation. I get that the kid is a draw, but why not mic her? All the other actors were mic’d, poor Joyanne’ voice gets lost in the jumble.
Caelyn Sommerville has the Calypso feel on lock, with her beautiful, clear voice that seems almost effortless. I was left wondering how that amazing sound could come out of such a slight frame. Brad Angst is well fit for TiMoune’s love interest, Daniel. He dances like a dream, and sings as if he does it daily in his living room. I don’t even think he broke a sweat. He’s so shiny that it hurts stare at him too long. Sarah O’Hara, playing Ti Moune’s adoptive mother, Mama Euralie, returns to the stage after a child-rearing hiatus and clearly hasn’t forgotten how to belt. Lee Knox, playing Mama’s counterpart, Tonton Julian, was exceedingly hard to hear when singing and speaking (Note: Knox apparently had a medical emergency during the show, but has since recovered.)
Island is the rare musical that can easily be performed with minimal set, and that’s the case here. There’s not much to it, other than a platform, the aforementioned tree, and two gray slabs, which, at one point, spin to offer a bedroom interior. The slightness of the set and costumes innuendo what we’re meant to use our imagination to fill in, which was only half effective, but a nice try, nonetheless.
BOTTOM LINE: Not everyone can foot the bill for a tropical getaway, so thank goodness you can afford the twelve bucks for Just Off Broadway’s Once On This Island. The show is indeed modest in terms of bling, but it sports some pretty infectious beats, lovely voices and stellar choreography. A delight in Overlea, for sure.
Email Pandora Locks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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