Broadway Beyond Louisville Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at Tennessee Performing Arts Center
Every once in a while comes a show that seals the heart of everyone who experiences it, Once on this Island is one such show. It's simple story, fun music, and subtle messages make it a musical for every single person who likes to be entertained. After a successful Broadway run that ended earlier this year (in which time the show won the Tony Award for Best Revival), the show has been re-staged for its national tour, which launched this week out of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC).
The story focuses on Ti Moune, an orphan who is one of the only survivors of a massive flood. Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian reluctantly take her in as their own even though they are peasants and struggle to feed even themselves. As Ti Moune grows up she constantly questions what her purpose is and why the gods chose to spare her life. When someone of higher class is hurt, Ti Moune nurses him back to life, and ventures out into the jungle in search of her star crossed lover.
The cast is lead by Courtnee Carter as Ti Moune. She brings a wonderful child like innocence to the role that is very difficult today, however Carter does this with ease. Tamyra Gray as a standout as Papa Ge, the demon of death. Gray is a petite woman, but she brings the larger than life character of Papa Ge into the flesh, with soaring vocals and inspired acting choices. Kyle Ramar Freeman as Asaka acts the role wonderfully, but I couldn't help but hope for more vocal acrobatics, his voice is strong, but the role of Asaka has proven to be a showcase for powerhouse vocals, and Freeman isn't there quite yet, but I'm sure he'll only improve as the show gets its footing. Philip Boykin is an absolute delight as Tonton. Every second he's onstage is a treat as he radiates warmth and compassion.
The set borrows loosely from its Broadway counterpart by incorporating onstage seating to somewhat replicate the "in the round" feeling. Many pieces of the set are the same, and with sand on the stage you can't help but feel like you've entered the world of a destitute Island. The staging by Michael Arden is good here, but you can tell he perhaps struggled with some aspects of moving the show to a proscenium stage, but on the whole his brilliance continues to shine through, particularly how "Rain" is staged feels just as thrilling as it did in New York.
In conclusion this is what I would classify as a "can't miss" night of theater. This show is so rarely done on the professional level that it feels like a rare gift to get to see it so fully realized. TPAC is only the first stop on this show's tour, and I highly recommend it if it happens to play anywhere near you.
Once on this Island
Now - October 20th
Tennessee Performing Arts Center
505 Deaderick St.
Nashville, TN 37219