Westcoast Black Theater Troupe scores a hit with this colorful, engaging musical.
By Kay Kipling
Because of the recent film version, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s offering of Dreamgirls earlier this season may have gotten a lot of recognition (it doesn’t hurt that the WBTT’s star in that show, Teresa Stanley, recently moved on to Broadway in The Color Purple). But for my money, the troupe’s current production of Once On This Island is by far the better, more satisfying show.
That’s for several reasons. One is that the show has not been produced by a local company before, so there’s a freshness for most of us to this calypso-themed telling of a love story between a dark-skinned peasant girl and an upper-class mulatto. Another is just the charm of the show’s score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Seussical), which moves all the action along with very few spoken words. And finally there is the strength of this production itself, which presents a fine cast, some outstanding direction and movement by Reggie Kelly, and good production values in the lighting, scenic and costume departments (not to mention yeoman’s work by music director Michael Sebastian and his band).
The tale of Ti’Moune (Whitney Reshard) and her devotion to “grandhomme” Daniel (Porter Anderson III) sweeps us away from the very beginning. An ensemble cast of storytellers takes turns filling us in on the details, from little Ti’Moune’s orphaned childhood to her first meeting with Daniel, an encounter engineered by the island’s gods (Stacey Copeland, Michael Kinsey, Keone Dent and Jnana Wilson), who are fighting amongst themselves as to whether or not love can conquer death.
In the case of Once On This Island, it does just that, but not before we’ve enjoyed such stirring production numbers as Rain and Pray, along with more touching songs including Ti’Moune, The Human Heart and Waiting for Life. And, finally, we are moved by the story’s outcome, thanks in no small part to the appeal of Reshard as Ti’Moune; she’s a tiny singing, dancing, smiling package of energy (well-matched with Anderson), who simply grabs onto our hearts and doesn’t let go.
Once On This Island runs through May 19 in performances at the Historic Asolo Theater; call 360-7399 for tickets or go to ringling.org/theater.asp.