By Alison Tingley
The Erie Playhouse is currently presenting Once On This Island, directed by Almitra Clerkin. Book and lyrics are by Lynn Ahrens. Music is by Stephen Flaherty. The show is based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love or The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy. The novel has been called a tropical retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” (not the Disney version). The production ran on Broadway from 1990 to 1991. It won the Olivier Award for best new musical when it ran on London’s West End in 1994.
Set on an island in the French Antilles where poor peasants and wealthy merchants do not mix, Once On This Island, is a story of love and the boundaries of class. On a stormy night, the peasants tell the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl on the island long ago. Ti Moune, once orphaned by a storm and rescued by Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian, grows up poor. On a stormy night, she rescues a wealthy man who was badly injured in a car accident. Ti Moune stays with him day and night offering anything to the gods to let him live. The gods accept the offer. Tonton Julian walks the island on foot to find the man’s father. Rather than thanking Julian, the father sends for the man, still on the brink of death, and brings him home to the hotel in which they live. Ti Moune sets out to find the man, believing that she alone can save his life. With the help of the gods, she finds him and he allows her to stay with her. Ti Moune and Daniel fall in love. (That’s his name. She didn’t even know his name when she went looking for him. Kids these days.) However, Daniel is engaged to a woman from his own background and class. Will love prevail? Go find out. Go on. Go.
The cast includes Shavon Thurston (Ti Moune), Divine Amarie Thurston (Little Ti Moune), John Burton (Agwe/Armand), Stacy McClure (Asaka), Adele Marie Stewart (Erzule), Damone Morris (Papa Ge), Kimberly Overton (Mama Euralie), Bill Williams (Tonton Julian), Jermaine A. Beason (Daniel), and Kelley N. Ulmer (Andrea). The ensemble is comprised of Alyssa Craig, Nya Allen-Meyer, Makayla Watson, and Azana Williams.
This is a very musical musical. This beautiful story is told mostly through song. Really good songs sung by really good singers. Shavon Thurston has a beautiful voice. She is a graceful, talented actor. I would love to see more of her at the Playhouse. The gods (Burton, McClure, Stewart, and Morris) were all very good at singing and acting. I especially enjoyed McClure’s performance and would also like to see more of her. Morris may over-act a bit, but he is always fun to watch, and his dancing is delightful. Overton and Bill Williams play concerned parents quite well. They both have some well-delivered, cute lines, too. Ulmer also gives a nice performance in a double role. Beason plays the role of a man torn in two directions well, however his singing is a little weak. Divine Amarie Thurston is cute, though a little timid. She certainly has potential. The ensemble does a fine job of portraying both cultures on the island.
The costumes are colorful and wonderful. The direction is great. Andrew Rainbow and the orchestra do another fine job with the music. The choreography is a bit strange in that everyone purposely is not doing the same thing. This works for the show, giving the impression of individuals in a harsh environment and contrasting between gods and peasants.
Once On This Island runs through February 23. I didn’t know what to expect when I went to see this show. Though the run time is short, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a great way to forget that it’s cold outside for a while. One quick note: there’s no intermission, so pee before it starts. For more information and tickets call the Erie Playhouse box office at 814-454-2852 or go online to www.erieplayhouse.org.