BWW Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at ASU GAMMAGE. The Jewel of the Antilles becomes The Jewel of the East Valley.
If I could just write "This show was perfect. The end" for this production, I would. It would be the simple truth for a show so breathtaking, that trying to put words on this page is near impossible. There are no words that I could type that would truly encompass what is the Magnificence of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at ASU GAMMAGE. It is truly one of the must-see shows in the valley right now.
Through the voices of the storytellers on an island in the middle of a storm, the story of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is conveyed. To comfort a young girl, they tell a story of the gods through the journey of a young woman. As the tale progresses, the audience is brought through lessons of love, hope, determination, and grief, all while immersed in the world presented, The Jewel of the Antilles.
Entering the theatre, you are immediately brought to the island by Dane Laffrey's Stunning scenic design. Not soon after, it is easy to become jealous as you notice on-stage seating. No matter how great your audience seats may be, nothing beats the perspective of being in the midst of it all. Paired with the Lighting Design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, especially with the effects used throughout the show, and the use of sand, water, and "found" instruments on stage (John Bertles & Bash The Trash), there is never a moment when your eyes aren't tethered to the action in front of you.
On stage chemistry was abundant in this cast. The genuine feel of family exuded from the stage with each scene lead by this ensemble of players. Jay Donnell and Danielle Lee Greaves as Tonton Julian and Mama Euralie were a magnificent pair. Together, they portrayed well the joys, frustrations, and overall craziness of raising Ti Moune from an adventurous Little Girl (Mimi Crossland) to a determined and headstrong young woman (Courtnee Carter). Mimi Crossland was more than just adorable as the Little Girl. She was magnetic, revealing the first place where your heart is captured by her performance. Courtnee Carter's Ti Moune is perfection, as she embodies love in its truest form, unabashed and unconditional. Her connection to Daniel (Tyler Hardwick) is driven with profound sincerity, as they capture lightning-like passion amid this shows storm. Agwe (Jahmaul Bakare), Asaka (Kyle Ramar Freeman), Papa Ge (Tamyra Gray), and Erzulie (Casandra James) help lead our journey, showing their god-like influence, with each actor portraying their respective deity with ferocity and poise, gentleness and wildness.
As a whole, this cast is superb. With amazing choreography by Camille A. Brown, it is impossible not to be. As well, the music pulls together the atmosphere, with sounds that uplift and keep grounded the audience. The combination gives the audience no choice but to dance.
I personally felt myself being pulled to the stage during Ti Moune's Dance at The Ball. The raw emotions displayed at that moment, as well as every other moment, were outstanding. I feared for Tonton's safety, I cried more than I would like to admit, and I laughed at a falling mango. The gamut of emotions a show like this can put patrons through should be a testament to the power of live theatre. ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at ASU GAMMAGE is just amazing theatre. You missing this production will be something you regret for a very long time.
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