A Majestic Story Where Love Does Not Prevail
The 2020 season of plays at Broadway Cadillac Palace Theatre starts with a big with the magic of love stories called Once On This Island. An enchanting tale of one person's undying love and one on a stormy night that almost died being unwilling to sacrifice his pedigree privileges to be with someone he loved. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's 1990 musical 'Once on This Island' based on the Trinidad-born American writer Rosa Guy's 1985 novel "My Love, My Love." This love story tells the brutal truth about self-sacrificing and life differences (colonialism and subsequent colorism), where the heroine does not get to live happily ever and eternally, for there is no pretense on this island that love will conquer all.
'Once on This Island' is a one-act musical that accentuates the healing power of communal storytelling. It tells a delightful but painful story of a peasant girl on a tropical island, who uses the power of love to bring life back into the soul of a young man injured in a car accident. Thinking love will unite their souls and bring together people of different social classes; she even agrees to give up her life to Papa Ge, the Demon of Death.
The Caribbean islands are known for their deep roots in faith, ritual, Voodoo, myths, legends, and their gods. The four gods consist of Asaka: Mother of the Earth (Kyle Ramar Freeman), Agwe: god of Water (Jahmaul Bakare), Erzulie: goddess of Love (Cassondra James), and Papa Ge: the demon of Death (Tamyra Gray). The gods rule the island known as the Jewel of the Antilles, where poor peasants worship them. The peasants who are "black as night" live on one side of the island, and the Grands Hommes, the lighter-skinned descendants of the original French planters and their slaves, live on the other side.
This magical story brought to life by ensemble members playing multiple roles, calypso-inspired music and sound with jubilant dance numbers for 90-minutes. Set in an island in the French Antilles, in the present, is where we see the village storytellers trying to calm down a little girl one stormy night to distract her from the booming sounds of thunder.
Ti Moune (Courtnee Carter), the main character of the musical, is a peasant girl orphaned at a young age. She was found in a tree by her adoptive parents Tonton Julian (Phillip Boykin) and Mama Euralie (Danielle Lee Greaves). As Ti Moune ages, she develops a forbidden love with a Grand Homme.
Daniel Beauxhomme (Tyler Hardwick) the guy that Ti Moune heart beats for is rich, and a is a descended from a Napoleonic-era French colonist. His grandfather Armand (George Brown), who is one of the storytellers fathered a son name Beauxhomme, with an island woman. The son rose against his father in upheaval, and the father fled back to France. Only after cursing his children of Beauxhomme.
"Black blood will keep them forever on the island, while their hearts yearn forever for France." A shadowy silhouette of The Beauxhomme curse highlighted through a white curtain-like blanket with actors displaying the brutality of slavery by the French colonists.
The conflict of the 'haves and the have not's begins with Daniel's family, who runs a luxury hotel, with large gates to keep his family from the poverty that surrounds them; alluding to the fragmented identity that Armand cursed them. After Daniel's family finds him, they immediately remove him from the post-crash bed. Ti Moune travels across the island to find Daniel and continues to nurse him back to health. Her genuine affection and care for him cause Daniel to fall in love with her; unfortunately, the different social classes in which they live will forever forbid them to be together.
Kudos to a compelling cast of this splendid production. Leading the ensemble was Courtnee Carter, who was magnificent as Ti Moune, Tatiana Lofton (Storyteller), whose voice and sassiness resonated across the Cadillac theatre, and Kyle Ramar Freeman whose singing voice was spectacular. Lastly, the pint-size wonder, MiMi Crossland as (little Ti Moune), the little girl we see at the beginning of the musical. She alternates performances with Mariama Diop, who I'm sure is equally delightful. Crossland's energy, dancing, smiling, and singing throughout the play was excellent. She is a little star in the making.
The self-sacrificing story of 'Once on This Island' may not have a happy ending as far as relationships go; however, on an island where roots run deep, it does break down some race and social class barriers for the future. Clint Ramos's costumes, which featured a lot of US second-hand clothing, seemed mediocre, but comparable to most third-world and Western countries, that purchase used and pre-owned clothing; with the United States begin the largest exporters of used clothing.
Dane Laffrey's set design of a wrecked village community with sheet-metal walls with a back door of what seems to be an abandoned truck wasn't close to the original stage setting.
The staging won the Tony Award for best revival in 2018 at New York's Circle in the Square for Michael Arden; however, it was too grandiose for Cadillac Palace, who provided a more scaled-down version. To improvise, the theatre allowed a limited number of patrons to sit on the stage to view the production. And although it provided some partons with a closeup view, we felt that it took away the cogency of the inviting tropical island setting.
While Once on this Island at Cadillac Palace didn't necessarily show the warmth of the island, the performances were superb. Hopefully, it added another grain of sand to why we should never judge a book by its cover or color.
This musical reminds us that beauty can only be in the eye of the beholder when we remove the sight of prejudice.
Let's Play 'Recommend' that you get swept away on an island in this musical at Cadillac Palace.
Once on This Island
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's 1990 musical based on the book by Rosa Guy
Directed by Michael Arden
Now through February 2, 2020
Filed under: ChicagoNow