BWW Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND Makes a Splash at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater

BWW Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND Makes a Splash at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater

"Oh, gods! Oh, gods!" Cincinnati Landmark Productions has produced yet another hit with Once On This Island now running through July 1 at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater. The Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty musical follows the story of a young peasant girl named Ti Moune who falls in love with a wealthy young man from across the island. Throughout the show, Ti Moune, with the help of the Island gods goes on a journey that tests her love in the midst of hate. Once On This Island's themes of prejudice, and the conquering power of love over hate are extremely relevant in today's society, making this beautiful story all the more poignant and important.

Jay Goodlett's extremely creative direction and choreography keeps the themes central while also creating a lovely picture for the audience to see. Most of the lovely visuals that Goodlett created would not be possible without the gorgeous set designed by Brett Bowling. The show takes place in the French Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, and Bowling brought that island scene to the WFIT stage with use of plants, a hammock, and lots of cloth and wood.

The cast makes the set their playground as the audience gets to see why they "tell the story". From the minute the storytellers begin the tale of Ti Moune, the energy and love for the story is so apparent. The Gods, in particular were all standouts the minute they are introduced to the audience.

R. DeAndré Smith, Agwe, the God of Water has complete control of the stage in his act I solo "Rain" where he sets the love story in motion by creating a rainstorm which causes Daniel, the wealthy boy to crash on Ti Moune's side of the island.

Chandler Hoffert, a sophomore at CCM studying Acting plays the Demon of Death, Papa Ge. I was extremely impressed not only by Hoffert's obvious acting and vocal abilities which are well showcased in "Forever Yours" where he makes a fatal deal with Ti Moune, but the physical characterizations that he gives to Papa Ge are fascinating to watch. Throughout the show, the actors playing the Gods also act as storytellers, and his differentiation between the two is very evident which made it easy to follow.

As a nod to her act I showstopping finale, Tia Seay "will provide" as Asaka, Mother of Earth. Seay's Asaka is extremely grounded and nurturing while giving that punch of life and sass when needed. The number, "Mama Will Provide" has been getting a lot of press with the current Broadway Revival cast, so I did have high expectations of what the number would look like in this production, but I was pleasantly surprised by the killer talent that shines through Seay and the rest of the company not only through this number but the show as a whole.

Brittany Hayes' portrayal of Erzulie, the Goddess of Love, is quite breathtaking. Roughly half way through the show, Ti Moune stays with Daniel in the Hotel Beauxhomme as Erzulie gives them the gift of love. During this scene she sings "Human Heart" which is a beautiful ballad that elaborates on the feeling of love. This was my favorite performance of the night. Hayes' voice floated perfectly over the notes and the light, compassion, and joy that radiated off of her was enchanting.

Other standouts include Tim Judah and El More who plays Ti Moune's sweet parents: Tonton Julian and Mama Euralie. Their chemistry with each other and Shonda Moore who played Ti Moune was quite lovely.

Moore also has a very touching chemistry with Jared Roper who plays her love interest, Daniel. In addition to showcasing Hoffert in "Forever Yours", this was the point where I saw Ti Moune really bloom as this is when she discovers why she was saved and what she feels her purpose in life is. I believe this was made possible because of the connection that Roper and Moore displayed onstage.

The entire cast is so full of life and it makes for an enchanting story to watch play out before your eyes. What a perfect time to be performing Once on This Island, as it recently took home the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical! So, if you cannot get to New York, or even if you have seen the Broadway production, you will not want to miss Cincinnati Landmark Production's telling of Once On This Island running now through July 1!

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From This Author Anne Simendinger

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