Raleigh Little Theatres Once on This Island is a potential crowd pleaser. Those who can ignore flaws in the script and production should find this calypso-tinged show an entertaining night out.
The 1990 Broadway musical, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is set on an unnamed Caribbean island, where the locals act out a mythical tale. It concerns Ti Moune, a young girl, saved by the gods from a terrible storm. The grown up Ti Moune falls in love with highborn Daniel after rescuing him from an accident. She becomes his lover but is devastated when she learns hes to be married. The gods suggest she kill him but her love prevents that and she dies of a broken heart. The gods turn her into a tree, a haven for a future storm-orphaned young girl.
The 90-minute one-act is told almost continuously through song and dance. Director and choreographer L. D. Burris deserves much credit for inspiring the large cast to such committed precision in its steps and movement, often filling the stage with joyful commotion and beautiful tableaus.
But many numbers are too similarly staged, the lack of contrast dulling their impact. Also, the rapid trade-off of narration makes the complicated storyline hard to follow because the actors are often obscured in the crowd and their lines poorly enunciated.
The songs have engaging rhythms and melodies but sound too much the same, despite the best efforts of the superb pit band led by Julie M. Florin. The admirable decision not to use body mics is often undercut by the bands volume, overpowering the weaker voices.
Several notable performers help disguise the slow-moving story. Josephine Christians Ti Moune is sweetly innocent, her strong voice conveying great emotion, especially in duet with Daniel Gonzalezs Daniel. Tyanna West and Brian Fisher make lovable characters of Ti Mounes adoptive parents. Noah Anderson gives the god of death, Papa Ge, a scary fierceness, while Tina Morris-Anderson, as the sassy Earth goddess, Asaka, supplies the shows most satisfying number, Mama Will Provide.
Thomas Mauneys settings of peasant huts and elegant ballrooms add appropriate atmosphere. Ann Boivins headdresses for the gods are boldly imaginative and Elizabeth G. Droesslers lighting fills the stage with vivid color.