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Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Summer Theatre Of New Canaan

This production runs through July 31

The magic of The Summer Theatre of New Canaan's grand tent is back, this year at Waveny Park with the multiple award-winning show, Once on This Island.

Even if you've seen this, you don't want to miss this exceptional production, which is directed and choreographed by the legendary George Faison. Most of the cast are members of Actors Equity Association and the remaining few are just as accomplished performers. This is nothing less than a Broadway caliber production.

For those who are not familiar with the show, it is a one-act musical with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. Based on the Rosa Guy's 1985 novel, My Love, My Love or The Peasant Girl. It is based on a retelling of Hans Christen Anderson's fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, but set in the French Antilles.

The ensemble cast plays the storytellers and the gods, propelling the story of Ti Moune (played winningly Zurin Villaneuva). Ti Moune lives with her adoptive parents, Mama Euralie (Zole Morris) and Tonton Julian (C. Mingo Long) on one side of the island with the other peasants ("black as night"). On the other side are the grand hommes, who are the rich, light-skinned descendants of the island's early French colonists and their slaves. A war broke out between the peasants and the colonists, and the peasants won with the help of Beauxhomme. The original Armand Beauxhomme cursed his family and their descendents by promising that their "black blood will keep them forever on the island, while their hearts yearn forever for France" in the song "The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes."
Ti Moune prays to the gods to find her purpose in life. The gods are Papa Ge, the god of death and the main antagonist of the show, Erzulie, goddess of love, Agwé, god of water, and Asaka, mother of the Earth, played by Ramsey Pack, Tiffany Renee Thompson, Shafiq Hicks, and Brandi Chavonne Massey, respectively. Also in the ensemble are Alyana Smash, Kolten Bell, D. Jerome, Lance-Patrick Strickland, Chelsea-Ann Jones, and Tristan Hill.

After a fierce storm, Ti Moune discovers her mission in life when she finds the grand homme Daniel (Xavier McKinnon) unconscious on the ground after a car accident. She makes a deal with the gods to save his life. It she who nurses him back until he is well enough to return home. She falls in love with him and follows him to the other side of the island, and he leads her to believe that he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. "Some girls you marry, some you love," he sings to her, but his father Armand (Derrick Alton) had long ago arranged a marriage to Andrea Deveraux (Joy Del Valle), one of his own kind. Daniel admits this at the grand ball which, of course, leaves Ti Moune shattered.

Ti Moune returns to the hotel gate to try and meet Daniel at the gate. As he and Andrea are married, they follow the island's tradition of throwing coins to the peasants outside. Daniel gives Ti Moune a coin and leave. The storytellers sing about how the gods were moved by Ti Moune's love and unselfishness and bestow a final kindness on her. Erzulie leads her to the ocean, where Agwé lets her drown peacefully. Papa Ge brings her back to shore and Asaka transforms her into a tree so she will always be "A Part of Us." The tree celebrates love and life and it cracks open the gates of the hotel to bring people of all social backgrounds together. Ti Moune's story is told again in every generation, as explained in the closing number, "Why We Tell the Story."

From the start, every aspect of this production just blew me away. Every cast member brings tremendous energy and emotion to each song. William P. Mensching Jr.'s scenic design was an ideal stage model of an island, with fruit stand, hotel, and even a boat. There is not one inch of wasted space, yet the brilliant set conveys the danger of the storms, the relaxed feeling of island life, and the few miles that separate the world of the Beauxhommes and the world of the peasants. Dalia Sevilla's lighting complemented the set and the story perfectly. Arthur Oliver's costumes were fantastic, especially for the gods. Kudos also to Damien Sneed for his music direction and Wayne Yeager as production manager. This is a show that has been done delightfully by amateur theater groups, but this production is thoroughly professional. If there were to be another Broadway revival (and this critic hopes there will be), this incandescent production should be brought there intact. It is truly amazing how much music, dance, story, and life can be wrapped so completely and so flawlessly in 90 minutes.

Once on This Island plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 until July 31. Open field tickets are $54.00 ($49.00 for students and seniors), reserved seating tickets are $64.00 and you bring your own chairs, and V.I.P. tickets are $74.00, chairs included. Picnics and tailgating are welcome. Please observe COVID protocols and bring flashlights to make it easier to find your car after the show. The house opens 30 minutes before the show starts. All performances are at Waveny Park, 677 South Avenue in New Canaan, just off Exit 37 on the Merritt Parkway. www.stonc.org. For tickets visit, https://ci.ovationtix.com/3619




From This Author - Sherry Shameer Cohen

Sherry Shameer Cohen is an award winning parachute journalist and blogger who is always looking for more challenging work. Her articles and photos have appeared in Connecticut Magazine, Greenwich Magazine,... (read more about this author)


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