An Enchanting Once On This Island
The Ahrens book for Once On This Island, based on the novel My Love, My Love, is widely described as a Caribbean island version Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. Its heroine Ti Moune grows from timid orphan girl to a guileless if headstrong young peasant class woman who, during the course of a terrible storm, rescues Daniel Beauxhommes, an aristocratic young car crash victim from the other side of her island. By cheating the God of Death, Papa Ge, Ti Moune saves Daniel's life but at a terrible price, her own soul. Ti Moune follows Daniel back to his home, and though they begin a tempestuous romance, Ti Moune learns that Daniel is promised to be wed to Andrea, a girl of his own class. Papa Ge tries to convince Ti Moune to save her own soul by murdering Daniel. She refuses to do so, and with her passing proves that the power of love conquers the fear of death.
Ahrens' clever, often poetic lyrics and Flaherty's entrancing and varied melodies are the core of this musical, and director Bennett has populated the Village stage with an estimably talented ensemble that gives the score its due. As Ti Moune, Lisa Estridge essayed the same role some years ago at Tacoma Actors Guild, but this is not just a reprise of that performance. The still youthful Estridge brings a vocal richness and depth of feeling to Ti Moune on this go-round that can only have come from her own life experiences and growth as a performer through the years. Her rendition of "Forever Yours" is a tender cry from the heart. An added bonus is Estridge's own charming look-alike daughter Alexandria Gray, making a joyously uninhibited young Ti Moune (a role she alternates with Madison Willis).
Timothy McCuen Piggee brings a regal air and his stunning baritone to the role of the water God Agwe, and Ty Willis is a fearsome yet ultimately compassionate Papa Ge. Charlie Parker's silken voiced goddess of love Erzulie gives full measure to the haunting ballad "Human Heart", and as Ti Moune's adoptive parents Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian, Faith Bennett Russell and T. Edwin Pettiford are perfect fits. David Devine handles Daniel's struggle with his heart's desires and societal obligations believably, Karen Ann Daniels is suitably haughty as his betrothed Andrea, and Marlette Buchanan as Earth goddess Asaka captures the character, though not totally possessing the vocal heft to really rock the house on "Mama Will Provide."
Choreography by Chris Daigre is very loose, free form and sometimes repetitive, but commendably manages to give a cohesive feel to an ensemble of undoubtedly varied levels of dance experience. Musical director Faith Seetoo has an equally fine command of both her vocalists and pit musicians. Edie Whitsett's eye-catching yet uncluttered scenic design, Deb Trout's richly evocative costumes, and Tom Sturges' haunting lighting are hallmarks of the high level of quality to be found in this rendition of Once On This Island.
Once On This Island runs through October 23 at Village Theatre, 303 Front Street North in Issaquah, then moves to the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue in Everett, October 28-November 13, 2005. For more information, visit Village Theatre on-line at www.villagetheatre.org.