Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Once on This Island
Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Review by Zander Opper

Xavier McKinnon and Zurin Villanueva
Photo by Ed Libonati
Summer Theatre of New Canaan is currently presenting an enjoyable and emotional production of the Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) musical, Once on This Island. This was one of the first shows I ever saw on Broadway and it is a pleasure to be able to revisit the musical again. If the current production fumbles the first couple songs in the show, a strong cast, lovely set and costume designs, and an excellent offstage band, led by the awesome music director Damien Sneed, do set things right.

Summer Theatre of New Canaan is especially fortunate to have Zurin Villanueva in the central role of Ti Moune; she is absolutely enchanting and truly anchors the production. The rest of the company of performers is similarly talented and director/choreographer George Faison mostly does a good job of keeping the musical on the right course. This Once on This Island is a visual feast and is both entertaining and extremely moving.

Summer Theatre of New Canaan is presenting this show on a stage under a tent, with the audience seated in lawn chairs or on blankets out under the open sky. So, if there is a rainstorm, it would not be possible to have a performance. On the night I attended, the weather was just about perfect, clear and very comfortable. With its Caribbean setting and atmosphere, Once on This Island is the perfect show to see under the stars on a summer night.

The production takes hold when Zurin Villanueva makes her entrance as Ti Moune. Right from her first big song, "Waiting for Life," this actress' voice and stage presence are absolutely stellar. Indeed, one truly comes to care about her character and how things will turn out for her, especially when she falls in love with Daniel Beauxhomme, a young man who holds a different social position on the island than she does. As that object of affection, Xavier McKinnon is quite wonderful, especially singing the second act solo, "Some Girls," and it is to the actor's credit that he is unafraid of appearing unsympathetic when the plot calls for it. I would hate to give any of the story away for those new to this show, but suffice it to say, things don't always work out as one would like them to.

That said, there is much joy in this musical and the score overflows with rousing numbers, giving each character their chance to shine. As the formidable Asaka, Brandi Chavonne Massey is great and does full justice to "Mama Will Provide." Also making a strong impression as Erzulie, Tiffany Renee Thompson sings perhaps the most beautiful song in the show, "The Human Heart." Ramsey Pack is quite frightening as Papa Ge and he does wonders with "Forever Yours." As Agwe, Shafiq Hicks delivers a powerful performance of the song "Rain," and C. Mingo Long and Zole Morris are very moving as Ti Moune's parents. In somewhat smaller roles, Joy Del Valle is a lovely Andrea and Derrick Alton is just right for the character of Armand, leading the song "The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes" perfectly.

This production is enticing to watch, with gorgeous costumes provided by Arthur Oliver and evocative lighting by Dalia Sevilla. And, with its multi-levels, the set design by Willam P. Mensching Jr. is ideal for this show.

If there is a bit of a stumbling block in this production of Once on This Island, it is in the, at times, unsteady staging by director/choreographer George Faison. As mentioned, the start of the show is a bit rushed and confusing, and there are other moments that feel unfocused. Still, Faison does ultimately provide a good-looking show and he elicits superb performances from the entire cast. What a thrill it will be for audience members to discover just how touching and vibrant Once on This Island is. I don't think Summer Theatre of New Canaan could have chosen a more appropriate musical for its summer season.

Once on This Island runs through July 31, 2022, at Waveny Park Tent Theatre, 677 South Avenue, New Canaan CT. For information and tickets, please visit