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Washington DC by Tracy Lyon

Once On This Island

Once On This Island
Griffin Matthews and
Montego Glover

Round House Theatre ends their 2004–2005 season on a high note in the form of its production of the lovely Ahrens and Flaherty musical, Once On This Island. This show doesn’t just mark the end of a season; it marks the end of an era. Once On This Island is Jerry Whiddon’s last show as Producing Artistic Director for Round House. Mr. Whiddon held the job for twenty years, but his contributions to this Montgomery County staple date back to when it was a county program called Street 70.

Through the years, Mr. Whiddon and Round House told many stories. It is for that reason Once On This Island is an appropriate choice for his last show. As Mr. Whiddon states in the Artistic Director’s Notes, “One of the first things you hear in this show is the statement, “ ... We dance!” One of the last things you hear is the statement, “...We tell the story ...” If nothing else moved me to share this with you before I go, that was enough.

Indeed, Once On This Island is storytelling at its finest. The musical takes its story from the Rosa Guy novel My Love, My Love, which was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Set on a Caribbean island, the show focuses on an orphan girl named Ti Moune. The gods decide to test the peasant girl to determine if love is stronger than death. She is thrown together with a young man of privilege. However, the cruelties of an unfair class system make the road to love quite rocky.

Created by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty of Ragtime fame, the musical offers a beautifully written story and a score rich with emotion. The musical numbers range from a rousing opening number called “We Dance” to the moving “Forever Yours,” and almost all of the songs play a part in the progression of this tale.

Round House has assembled a skilled cast for this production. Montego Glover’s Ti Moune is wonderfully childlike and her voice is outstanding. As her love interest, Griffin Matthews (Daniel) is quite strong. The two play well off each other. David Emerson Toney (Tonton Julian) is a dominating force on the stage. At times he is so good that his performance draws attention to Beverly A. Cosham’s (Mama Euralie) rather mediocre portrayal.

Some highlights in this production are provided by Cicily Daniel’s (Asaka) take on “Mama Will Provide” and Eleasha Gamble’s (Erzulie) soulful interpretation of “The Human Heart.” Additionally, Clif Walker as the menacing Papa Ge is right on the mark.

The solid direction by Scot Reese and lively choreography by Michael J. Bobbitt produce a show that is visually stimulating. Daniel L. Conway’s set design is an uncomplicated set of poles that represent trees and a small gate that allow the actors to climb, hide and dance around them. Johnetta Boone adds color to the proceedings with her vibrant costume design.

There is a suggestion of sex in this show so parents should use their own judgment if planning to take children. There were many children in the audience the day this reviewer attended and they seemed to enjoy it. In the end Once On This Island is a little gem of a show. This is one that should not be missed. Once On This Island runs through July 3rd.

Round House Theatre
Once On This Island
June 1st – July 3rd
Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy
Directed by Scot Reese
7501 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
Ticket Information: 240-644-1100 or www.roundhousetheatre.org

Cast List: Beverly A. Cosham, Cicily Daniels, Eleasha Gamble, Montego Glover, Isaiah Johnson, Griffin Matthews, Stephawn P. Stephens, David Emerson Toney, Clif Walker, Kara-Tameika Watkins, Dorean K. Collins, Alexandria Brooke Perrin


Photo: Stan Barouh


-- Tracy Lyon


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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