Once On This Island
Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens Music by Stephen Flaherty. Based upon the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy.
Directed by Emily Hard.
Remaining shows: Sept 5th and 6th at 8pm
Chicago Center for the Performing Arts
777 North Green Street
Phone: (312) 733-6000
Tickets are $15 on-line, $20 at the door
Yellow Alligator Theater Company
(In the interest of full disclosure, Emily Hard also works with me at Fig Media, Inc.)
Once on This Island is a one-act musical/fable told through the eyes of a community of villagers on a small Caribbean island. Based on the book My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, it also mixes in some elements of Little Mermaid (the original story, not the Disney version) and Romeo and Juliet. Told through song and a lot of dancing, it's the story of Ti Moune, an orphan girl chosen by the gods for a special fate and saved for a special destiny by Asaka, mother of the Earth.
This was my first time seeing this musical. I have heard of it, it was nominated for several Tony awards, including Best Musical of 1990. It's written by the same folks that brought us Ragtime and My Favorite Year. So, it's got some pedigree.
What's nice about this production is that it honors the art of story telling as a way to enrich community. It's in the fabric of these villagers. It's a part of their lives. It's the ultimate in learning from OPE (other people's experience) and in connecting as family. It's worth seeing Yellow Alligator's take on the show just for that.
This is also Yellow Alligator Theater Company's inaugural production. It's a shame that their run is only three shows long. The show is competent in its execution, but has a lot of room to grow. There are also technical aspects that still need to be ironed out. The sound mix is up and down, with the music oftentimes overpowering the singers, who aren't mic'd. The talent pool is sturdy, but moments could be fleshed out more and, since the ensemble plays multiple characters, it's sometimes hard to tell if someone is playing their primary character or just another villager. Some of the actors rise above it all and just become very engaging, infectious presences on stage - Jasmine Randle and Rashada Dawan as "Little TiMoune" and "TiMoune," respectively, and Amber Whitted and Magellan Watts as "Mama Euralie" and "Tonton Julian" are among them. Dawn Bless and Michael Bartlett also have a few very strong moments.
I do have some problems with the story itself. It seems a little racist to me. Black people are happy and poor, white people are rich and miserable. Don't worry, there's hope. The black people try to save us, even though we're content being wealthy assholes. While broad character strokes like that can be considered an ingredient to fables, I think more three-dimensional development, especially of the two lovers, would have led to more empathy for their plight as well as a more grounded story.
You only have two more chances to see the show. Tonight and Saturday night. If you have never seen this musical, this is a good opportunity.
THE BS NEWS QUIZ OF THE DAY
Yesterday, I wrote...
17% said "wave machines for surfing"
"A $350 million high school opened Wednesday in Los Angeles. One of its features is what?"
- They wear swimsuits to school and carry regular clothes in their gym bags.
17% said "coffee kiosks"
- It's LA. Each classroom comes with its own barrista.
No one thought "hot tubs"
66% got it right with "toxic gases"
According to the Associated Press, much of what was then called the Belmont Learning Center was already constructed before fears grew about toxic gases rising from an old oil field upon which it was built. A decade behind schedule, the $350 million downtown high school finally opened on Wednesday after years of environmental, seismic and legal troubles. The school resembles a college campus, with several classroom buildings surrounding a landscaped courtyard. It boasts a gym with capacity to hold 3,000, a large dance studio with cushioned maple floors, 480 underground parking spaces - and a $17 million toxic gas mitigation system that costs $250,000 a year to operate!
Forget the barrista. Each room needs a canary. And a slayer.