BY SANDY STAGGS
Part-fairy tale and part-surreal, Once on This Island is making waves at the Peace Center all week long. This national tour of the 2018 Tiny winner for Best Revival is one mesmerizing show with a solid and diverse cast of actors of color who are enthralling, enchanting storytellers, musicians and make-up artists.
The stage has been transformed into a former tropical paradise this week with audience members stowed above a sandy beach in a post-hurricane Caribbean wasteland.
What was ingenious in 2017 the show mounted on Broadway, now seems prescient in 2019 after a string of devastating island calamities since, including The Bahamas and Puerto Rico.
Based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy – itself an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid – this 1990 show was re-conceived at Circle in the Square Theatre and the touring version captures some of the immersive in-the-round experience with on-stage seating among the action and the actors, and real sand on the stage.
The score is beautiful and in capable entertaining hands from several cast members from the Tony-winning Broadway production.
And sing, sing sing does this cast as it’s completely sung-through – the score is by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty of Anastasia, Ragtime and Seussical – and the ensemble has to ooh, ahhh, laaaa, in every tune with barely any solo time except for the peasant teenage girl Ti Moune (a perfectly cast Courtnee Carter in “Waiting for Life”) and her forbidden lover Daniel (Tyler Hardwick in “Some Girls”).
Director Michael Arden’s (Spring Awakening revival) is bold and fluid, dreamy (with a Wizard of Oz vibe) switching from reality to fantasy and myth with the young Ti Moane generously and creatively featured in numerous enterprising scenes and alternating between Mimi Crossland and Mariama Diop.
Cassondra James is divine as Erzulie, the Goddess of Love (a Broadway replacement for Erzulie as well as an original Storyteller and Flute Player in the Tony-winning production) displaying beauty and power in a constant struggle with the extraordinary Tamyra Gray (a master with the extensive make-up application and also from the Broadway run) as Papa Ge, the terrifying Demon of Death.
Greenville’s own Tony/Grammy nominee PHILLIP BOYKIN who plays TonTon Julian adds his own brand of joy in this show. Boykin received a special induction into the South Carolina Theatre Hall of Fame from the South Carolina Theatre Association at the Peace Center after the opening night performance.
And Kyle Ramar Freeman as Asaka (Mother of the Earth) who cooks peppers on stage at the top of the show, later nails a splendid, just delightful, calypso number “Mama Will Provide” (it’s an island of course there’s calypso).
Once on This Island continues through Sunday, November 10 at the Peace Center in Greenville. Tickets available at www.peaceecenter.org.
Greenville’s own Tony/Grammy nominee PHILLIP BOYKIN who plays TonTon Julian will receive a special induction into the South Carolina Theatre Hall of Fame from the South Carolina Theatre Association at the Peace Center after the opening night performance.