Regional Reviews: San Diego
Once on This Island
During a night of heavy thunder and lightning on an island in the French Antilles, a young girl (Maya Washington) becomes fearful of the dangerous weather. To help calm her nerves, members of the village tell her the tale of an orphan, Ti Moune (Brooke Henderson), who was washed up on the island. Raised by her loving adopted parents, Mama Euralie (Patricia Jewel) and Tonton Julian (Leo Ebanks), Ti Moune grows up to be a free-spirited individual.
Soon thereafter, Ti Moune saves the life of a mixed-race French grand homme, Daniel (Ala Tiatia-Garaud), who is wounded in a car crash, and falls in love with him. After Daniel returns to his family hotel, the Hotel Beauxhomme, Ti Moune begins a quest to find him, even though her adopted parents believe that their daughter's low social status as a "peasant" and dark skin color will result in heartbreak.
Based on Rosa Guy's novel "My Love, My Love," which is loosely adapted from "The Little Mermaid," Lynn Ahrens' book and lyrics create the atmosphere of a storybook come to life. Musical numbers, including "One Small Girl," "The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes," "And the Gods Heard Her Prayer" move the plot along with creative lyrics that keep theatregoers invested in Ti Moune's journey. Ahrens' prose fits perfectly with composer Stephen Flaherty's Calypso musical style. Their songs range from joyful and grand to calming and romantic, and can be heard clearly, because of Jim Zadai's crisp sound design. All of the tunes are played beautifully by the band at the Moonlight Amphitheatre, led by music director, conductor and keyboardist Lyndon Pugeda. Each bandmember, which features guitarist PJ Bovee, woodwindist Ariana Warren, and percussionist Mike Dooley, stand out in the introduction to the song with the rousing celebratory melody, "We Dance."
Every number requires strong voices from each performer, and the company does not disappoint. Henderson captivates with her strong belting, heart-on-her-sleeve acting, and powerful dancing. Several of the co-stars stand out as well, with Edred Utomi, Anise Ritchie, Nathan Andrew Riley, and Jodi Marks displaying unique voices as the gods who look after the island and Ti Moune. In addition, Tiatia-Garaud is both likable and mysterious as Daniel, and Kevin "Blax" Burroughs is very versatile playing Daniel's strict father Armand, as well as one of the numerous storytellers.
The strong performances are guided by director and choreographer Paul David Bryant, who is skilled in staging big scenes with all of the players, as well as smaller ones focused on Ti Moune. The combination of grand and intimate moments allows for the narrative to become more touching as the events unfold. His movements capture the high-spirited personalities of the people in Ti Moune's village, as well as the stiff personalities of Daniel's world. Other crewmembers who enhance the visuals onstage are set designer Stephen Gifford, lighting designer Jennifer Edwards, projectionist Blake McCarty, and costume coordinator Felicia Broschart. Their collaboration highlights the stormy nights and sunny days the characters experience.
Featuring tragic and cheerful elements, Once on This Island is an uplifting and grand return for the beloved Vista theatre production company and should leave the audience thankful they are once again able to experience live theatre.
Once on This Island runs through July 3, 2021, at Moonlight Stage Productions, 1250 Vale Terrace Dr, Vista CA. Tickets start at $17.00 and can be purchased online at www.moonlightstage.com or by phone at 760-724-2110.