If someone had told me about Once on This Island, now playing at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, and I missed it, Knowing what I know now, I would be so angry with myself. Talk about a captivating “don’t blink your eye” display of stage production that was just amazing. You do not even have to be a theater lover or veteran to enjoy it. Just an open mind to good wholesome acting, and this production will make you hungry for more at the end of ninety minutes of dramatic stage artistry.
Set in the French Antilles, Once on This Island explores the concepts of life, pain, grief, faith, hope, and the power of love to bring people of different social classes together. Ti Moune, a peasant girl, rescues a wealthy boy from the other side of the island, Daniel, with whom she falls in love. Unbeknownst to Ti Moune, the pompous gods who preside over the island make a bet with one another over which is stronger, love or death, the stakes being Ti Moune’s life. When she pursues Daniel, who has returned to his people, Ti Moune is shunned because of her lowly status. Her determination and capacity to love, though, is not enough to win Daniel’s heart, and Ti Moune pays the ultimate price; but the gods turn Ti Moune into a tree that grows so strong and so tall it breaks the wall that separates the societies and ultimately unites them.
It was not only the performances that were immaculate. The production’s technical display was impressive as well. Skillful lighting illuminated the play’s many emotional themes and the colorful costumes that showed the differences between peasant life and affluence. The sound added an effective overlay to the remarkable singing voices of the performers, whose entertaining vocals were enjoyable individually and together. The clever use of props also showed extraordinary creativity that gave an overall enthralling production. Add the energetic dancing to pulsating Caribbean rhythms, which were beautifully choreographed, and you are bound to leave with a memorable experience.
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The predominantly black cast was quite fitting for the celebrated month, Black History. Brinie Wallace, who played young peasant girl Ti Moune was excellent. She was totally consumed in her character and showed her magnificent skills as she moved from one emotional theme to the next. You will feel compelled to help her through her laughter, crying, sadness, disappointment, happiness, and struggles. Little Ti Moune needed someone with confidence and poise to grow into the beautiful peasant girl that became the protagonist. That personality was found in Chloe Nichole, who would easily fool you into believing this was not her first professional acting role. The ten-year-old has a strong and penetrating voice that gives assurance and calmness as needed.
Jade Jones and Geoffrey Short delivered fabulously as the adoptive parents of T Moune. And if you watched Kinky Boots, you will again get a fantastic performance from Elijah Word, who was the ferocious God of Death in this production. Overall, the entire cast made the experience unforgettable.
Paige, who had a front-row seat, said that Once on This Island was a spectacular production. “It was upbeat, and we need that, especially at this time.”
Sharon from Fort Lauderdale, like so many patrons, said the cast was amazing. “They kept you entertained from beginning to end.”
The production allowed patrons to experience the challenges women face in relationships, parents going through the issues of raising children, the power of classism, self-confidence, betrayal, discrimination, love, and the desire to seek better fortunes even if the journey seem risky and dangerous.
Shanteria, who loved the production, said: “I felt like I was part of the story. Michael and his partner Annette said, “everybody should see the show. “The talent, the plot, and everything about the show was wonderful.”
Whitney, attending with her friends, admitted that she cried with her mask on but “loved it!”
My only dissatisfaction with the production is that it ends on February 20th. That is definitely too short for a show that persuasively highlights so many stories, especially in Black History Month.
Artistic director Patrick Fitzwater who co-founded Slow Burn Theatre Company said that “one of our primary goals was to select contemporary musicals that would encourage audiences to explore social issues, challenge belief systems and help audiences look at themselves and others in a new way.” There is no doubt that he did just that.
And not that you need another reason to attend the show in its final week, but if you need a little nudge, it is an award-winning play. The original production earned eight Tony nominations for its Broadway run, including Best Musical, Book, and Score, and the 2017 Production won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.