Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at Speakeasy Stage Proves that Love Can Prevail

Speakeasy Stage's ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is an enchanting piece of theatre.

By: Mar. 16, 2022
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Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at Speakeasy Stage Proves that Love Can Prevail

The first and only production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND I saw was a concert production featuring an all-white cast. So, when I heard that Speakeasy Stage would be producing the show, I was excited to be able to see how it is meant to be performed. This production, directed by Pascale Florestral and music directed by David Freeman Coleman, did not disappoint.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is the story of a girl named Ti Moune (played by Peli Naomi Woods), a poor peasant girl who gets washed up in a storm and ends up in a tree. She is found in the tree by her adoptive parents Mama Euralie (Lovely Hoffman) and TonTon Julian (Anthony Pires Jr.). She is raised to be a confident and smart girl. One day the gods create a storm that causes a rich, pale-skinned boy named Daniel (Kenny Lee) to crash his car. Ti Moune finds Daniel and vows to stay with him and take care of him until he is healed. She is then led on an adventure by the four gods; Pape Ge (the demon of Death. Played by Malik Mitchell), Agwe (god of Water. Played by Davron S. Monroe), Asaka (Mother of the Earth. Played by Yewande Odetoyinbo), and Erzulie (goddess of Love. Played by Christina Jones) as she tries to find her place in the world and prove that love can conquer all.

Peli Naomi Woods is an incredibly captivating Ti Moune. She truly embodies the character and has an incredible voice. Throughout the entire show, she held onto the character and brought the audience on the journey with her. Kenny Lee's Daniel was also remarkable. In the song " Some Girls," Daniel sings about how he loves Ti Moune but hints that there may be betrothed to another woman. Lee does a great job at showing Daniel's struggle and in his duet with Woods, their voices meld beautifully. Another stand out to me in the cast was Becky Bass who is a "Beauxhommes" Narrator and Storyteller, and also plays the steel pan. Every time she entered the stage my eyes went directly to her. It is important the ensemble members stay present in the moment and don't just fade into the background and Bass emerges herself in each scene and has a contagious attitude. You could tell she was having a fun time in the show.

The show was staged on the floor of the theatre in a thrust style. While this creates an immersive setting for a show, it is also difficult to block and choreograph a show on. I was seated in the section that was at the foot of the stage and there were some moments that I missed because there were performers standing right in front of us.

The band, led by David Freeman Coleman, did a fantastic job bringing the score to life. However, some of the audio mixing caused the vocals to sound canny and unnatural and got a bit distracting at times.

Overall, this production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND was enchanting and brought you into the world of these characters. The show runs now through April 16 at the Calderwood Pavilion. For tickets and more information visit the SpeakEasy website.

Photo by Nile Scott Studios.


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