Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Studio Theatre

This Carribean fairytale runs through June 23

By: Jun. 13, 2024
Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Studio Theatre
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The Studio Theatre, 320 W 7th St, in Little Rock, heats things up with ONCE ON THIS ISLAND THE MUSICAL now through June 23. Join them as they take you through a tropical fairytale full of romance, magic, and tragedy. With Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Music by Stephen Flaherty, and Direction by Caelon Colbert, and based on Rosa Guy's 1985 novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl, a Caribbean retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, you will fall in love with these characters as they struggle through trauma, social status, and colorism. 

To keep Little Girl (Hall Nichols) from being afraid of the hurricane, the islanders tell her a story about Ti Moune (Amaya Hardin) who lives on an island ruled by the Gods Asaka (Taijee), Goddess of Earth, Erzulie (Patricia Loera), Goddess of Love, Papa Ge (Miki Gaynor), Demon of Death, and Agwe (Kenneth Gaddie), God of Water. When Ti Moune was a little girl, she survived a hurricane by clinging to a tree. Assuming she must have been spared by the Gods for some greater purpose, Tonton Julian (Nick Farr) and Mama Euralie (B. Devine) find and raise her as their own, which gives them a lot of joy. As she grows into a teenager, she is fascinated by the strangers who drive by and yearns to know more of their world. She prays to the Gods that spared her to give her that opportunity, and though the Gods laugh at her request, Erzulie suggests to the other Gods that they should give her what she wants. Love is the strongest force, right? Papa Ge, of course, argues that death is stronger.  

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Studio Theatre

So, the two Gods agree to test Ti Moune, to see if her love is stronger than death. Agwe brings on a storm, crashing a car driven by Daniel (Dalton Carroll), an aristocratic Beauxhommes with whom Ti Moune falls madly in love. When Ti Moune tries to nurse him back to health, she asks Death to spare his life and take hers. His people take him back to their side of the island, Ti Moune follows, somehow makes it inside the estate, and heals Daniel. He wants to keep Ti Moune with him forever until his fiancé Andrea (Fernanda Posadas) enters the scene. What happens? Go to the show and find out.  

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Studio Theatre

To begin, I want to talk about the amazing choreography created by Amaya Hardin, who also plays Ti Moune. Doing one or the other is a lot of work, but doubling up on duties is a colossal commitment. Let me tell you, though, the dancing was amazing. I loved the traditional Carribean moves that was celebrated in this show. The moves were intentional, an asset to the storytelling, and powerful. Seldom is the choreography so attention seeking, that I come out of story mode just to think....wow, this is some awesome dancing. I loved it! 

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Studio Theatre

Complementing the dancing were those colorful costumes. The storytellers had everyday clothes, but Ti Moune and the Gods were breathtaking. Director Caelon Colbert dressed up his characters in visually stunning attire. Patricia Loera had a beautiful dress fitting for the Goddess of Love. Equally, all the Gods were ensembled with garbs representative of their characters and region. The one that got me the most though was Mother Earth. I was on the front row, and it still took me until intermission when I looked at the Playbill to find out that the beautiful woman in the exquisite full skirt was my friend Taijee. Seriously! I was like....who is this woman? I’ve never seen her before. She’s amazing. You all got me! I had no idea! Good job! 

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Studio Theatre

Now, let’s go back to Amaya Hardin. I have seen her in several shows now, and this is my favorite character. She embraced Ti Moune so much, I believed she was the beguiling peasant. She nailed the accent, the innocent, pleading eyes, and the youthful, hopeful energy. Just like in Little Mermaid and Romeo and Juliet, in my head I called her a foolish girl, but you just couldn’t help but love her and want the best for her. Still....that ending.....I have thoughts for the playwright about that. 

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Studio Theatre

I have never heard any of this music, so watching this was a real treat. It has a lot of fun ensemble numbers and some great solos. Some of the ones I really enjoyed were “Mama Will Provide” sung by Taijee, “The Human Heart” performed by the captivating Patricia Loera, and “Rain” with the powerful Kenneth Gaddie. Really though, it was all so moving. The cast told a great story. 

As always, extra points are awarded for the live band. Music Director Christian Waldron put together such a talented band, the people sitting next to me didn’t even realize that it wasn’t a track. They were that astonishing! Hanging out with Waldron, who was on Keyboard 1, was Leann Jones on Keyboard 2, Logan J Smith on Guitar, Liz Cohen on Bass, and Jake Wyatt on Drums.  

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Studio Theatre

For tickets, visit their website at https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/the-studio-theatre/6600c63932d3d80e3ab6258a/tickets. Get them before they sell out.  

Next up is Legally Blonde The Musical. I’ve seen the cast list and can’t wait for this one....like Oh my God you guys! Tickets are already posted for that one as well, so go ahead and buy those while you are at it.  

Thank you Erica Gregory for these beautiful photos.

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at The Studio Theatre




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