BWW Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park is 'Godlike'
Go on a journey that "tests the strength of love in the face of death," with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's 60th season opener, "Once on This Island," running through Oct. 6.
This production, directed and choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming, takes place in an American Red Cross shelter in the Caribbean in the wake of disaster, where a beautiful and epic love story is told to distract a young, frightened child.
The islanders tell the child that a disaster to this degree has only happened once before, when a young girl, Ti Moune, was found in a tree by an old peasant couple. The couple tells Ti Moune that she was saved by the gods for something special, which launches Ti Moune into a quest for her purpose. She prays to the gods to send her a sign for why she was saved, but also believes she is to fall in love with someone from another place, and is willing to give it all up for him. When the gods hear this prayer, they decide, after much deliberation, to give her exactly what she wants, and they will be there to guide her way on the quest for self discovery.
From the moment the actors walked onstage, my eyes were immediately drawn to the gods. Bre Jackson (Asaka), Allan K. Washington (Agwe), Christina Acosta Robinson (Erzulie) and Sharon Catherine Brown (Papa Ge) make up the four gods/goddesses of Earth, Water, Love and Death, who help to control Ti Moune's journey. The majority of their acting is done by reacting to the actions that Ti Moune makes throughout the musical, but each god has a solo where they narrate how they are taking part in the girl's narrative.
The first god to set the self-discovery in motion is Agwe, the god of Water. Washington wowed the audience with his booming voice in "Rain," where he creates a storm where a handsome stranger, Daniel Beauxhomme, crashes on the shore for Ti Moune to find him. Washington possessed such confidence and swagger as Agwe, and had one of the most magnetic presences on the stage.
Brown's portrayal of the "sly demon of Death," was haunting in the best way. As soon as Ti Moune and Daniel begin to plan their future together, Papa Ge storms in with "Forever Yours," telling Ti Moune that no emotion is strong enough to conquer the inevitable fate of death. Each line and lyric that Brown delivered was brought forth with such tenacity, strength, and mischief. There was this wary uncomfortableness surrounding her, which could be analyzed as the feeling of death always looming.
Jackson arguably stole the show with her show-stopping, "Mama Will Provide." This is the moment in the show were the excitement and energy peaks, as the entire ensemble joins Asaka, Mother of the Earth, to calm Ti Moune's nerves as she travels to pursue Daniel. Jackson is dynamite as her voice soars and she riffs to the heavens. Just when you think she's done all the option-ups, she continues to amaze to the audience's delight.
Robinson is the show's emotional and moral core as Erzulie, the goddess of Love. In all honesty, "Human Heart" has always been a favorite of mine, but Robinson breathed new beauty into it. The audience sees all of Erzulie's careful and compassion-filled work pay off in this song as the young couple continue falling in love, and everyone rejoices and believes in the power of love for four minutes as Robinson's enchanting voice soothes and makes you feel whole.
The entire company delivers breathtaking performances across the board, but if you find yourself taking a trip to the island, make sure to take note of all the magic the gods are working throughout the show, both in and out of the spotlight.
Tickets to "Once on This Island," running through Oct. 6, can be purchased online at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's website by clicking here. On Tuesday, Sept. 17, a minimum of 100 $10 tickets can be purchased in-person at the box office beginning at 6 p.m. on the day of the show.
Don't wait for life to begin to see this enchanting love story!