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Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is an explosion of joy on the Baxter Flipside stage

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is an explosion of joy on the Baxter Flipside stage

Wêla Kapela Productions brings this Tony Award winning musical to Cape Town

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is a joyous expression of music and dance from start to finish. It's feel-good musical theatre at its best and this production from Wêla Kapela is just wonderful. I had a blast in the audience from the moment I walked into the auditorium.

This musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty has won Tony Awards on Broadway and I can see why. The characters are vibrant, the music is great and the story warms the heart. The play is set on a Caribbean Island, but I love the local African flair brought to it by the director and the cast. It's right at home here in South Africa. It tells the story of an island peasant girl who fell in love with a wealthy boy from the other side of the island.

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is an explosion of joy on the Baxter Flipside stage The story itself isn't exactly unique - it's actually based on a Caribbean interpretation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid. What makes this musical so special is how it's told through song and through all of the characters playing narrator at various points throughout the story. The whole thing feels magical but the emotions and the characters are all too real - especially when the gods make a bet on what's more powerful: love or death.

This production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is slick and well-rehearsed. At the same time, it feels vibrant and spontaneous as the actors move through their songs and dances with joy, exuberance and heart. Director Amanda Bothma has stitched this production together beautifully, along with musical director Nathan Johannisen, chorus director Akhona Zizipho Nkinti, and choreographer Sonwa Sakuba. They've really done excellent work.

The set is something to behold! The entire stage is covered in sand, giving you that real island feel. Across the back, there's small homes and big trees, as well as a washing line full of clothing made of bright shweshwe fabrics. Behind the washing line, the band sits, peeking out so the audience knows they're there. The costumes blended in beautifully with the setting. I loved the costumes for the four gods - Asaka: Mother of the Earth (Dikelo Mamiala), Agwe: God of Water (Mava Gqeba), Erzulie: Goddess of Love (Kerry Hiles), and Papa Ge: Demon of Death (Alison Hillstead) - and I loved how they got more elaborate as the show went on.

Review: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is an explosion of joy on the Baxter Flipside stage

To be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed every part of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. It was exactly what my heart and soul needed to warm me up in the middle of winter. I can highly recommend getting to the Baxter and catching it this week.

Photo credit: Schuleeta Scholfield

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND runs at the Baxter Flipside Theatre until Saturday 16 July 2022. Tickets are R180 and R140 for block bookings of 10 or more, seniors and students. Booking is through Webtickets.




From This Author - Faeron Wheeler

Faeron is a Cape Town based actor, writer and producer who has been involved in theatre since she was only three years old. She studied drama and dancing throughout school and then went on to do... (read more about this author)


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