Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Theatre Talk on an island and around San Diego

Expectations are always high when attending a performance at Vista's renowned outdoor venue the Moonlight Amphitheatre. Under the stars on a pleasant opening night, the maskless crowd enthusiastically welcomed the first production of its 40th season, "Once on this Island, The Musical."

First produced in 1990, originally a 90-minute-one-act play, "Once on this Island, The Musical" opened off-Broadway and ran for 60 performances. Over the years other performances followed eventually crossing the pond for a stint in London, the West End in 1995, and returning to Broadway in 2018 to win a Tony Award for

Best Revival of a Musical.

The book and lyrics are by Lynn Aherns with music by Stephen Flaherty. While there are 16 musical numbers throughout, there isn't one familiar song to sing on the ride home. With the exception of "Some Girls" which strikes a chord in every woman's heart with lyrics sung by the protagonist, "some girls you love and some girls you marry," splendidly delivered by Daniel (Ala Tiatia-Garaud).

The story is an adaptation of Rosa Grey's novel "My Love, My Love or The Peasant Girl." Situated in the French Antilles a.k.a. French West Indies, "Once on this Island" was influenced by Hans Christian Anderson's "Little Mermaid" about unrequited love.

The story: A little girl is swept ashore during a tremendous storm. When found by locals, to comfort her, the storytellers share the fairytale about Little Ti Moune who was also an orphan but was saved by the gods for a special fate.

The story describes events from the beginning when Napoleonic French noblemen arrived on the island to build sugar plantations subsequently, mixing their blood with their dark-skinned slaves. Generations later, the lighter-skinned descendants, now the wealthy, impose a caste system separating themselves and the poor

peasants from the other side of the island. Mama Euralie (Patricia Jewel) and Tonton Julian (Leo Ebanks) show love and support as the adopted parents

of the little orphan. Both deliver solid performances.

Little Ti Moune (Maya Washington) bursts with energy and enthusiasm as she slides in and out of the scenes. It is Ti Moune (Brooke Henderson) who seems to get lost in her costume. In her first major role, no doubt she was overcome by opening night jitters. Try as she might, this petite miss gave her all though missed the mark.

It is the charismatic performances by the four gods that carried this performance, especially Papa Ge (Edred Utomi). He is evil and unrelenting. His captivating performance is electric. Not to be outdone is Erzulie (Anise Ritchie) who scores with her solo "The Human Heart." Asaka (Jodi Marks) claims centerstage with "Mama Will Provide" and Agwe (Nathan Andrew Riley) tells of "Rain" in his lavish interpretation.

Blax Burroughs is a local favorite and carries his multiple roles with dignity.

Andrea (Jocline Mixson) plays Daniel's (Ala Tiatia-Garaud) affianced and shines in the song "The Ball." Her carriage and authority establish her entitlement. Her performance as Andrea is impeccable.

Let's call it opening night jitters because right from the opening number there was a feeling of disconnect that was never righted. From the minimal scenic design to the blocking, the rhythm of the show felt forced.

Originally a 90-minute-one-act play, regrettably this show is sliced in half, no doubt, to accommodate the vendors.

The performers didn't connect with each other in this under choreographed production. The blame falls to the director/choreographer, Paul David Bryant. In every case, all blame lands in the director's lap.

The opening night show is rated 8 out of 10 with high hopes for future nights. Once on this Island, The Musical" will run until July 3.

The rest of the season is stacked with Disney's Beauty and the Beast The Musical" opening July 21 – Aug. 7, followed by "A Chorus Line" Aug. 18 – Sept. 4, closing the season with "On Your Feet, the Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan" from Sept. 15 to Oct, 2. Added performances include "The Piano Men" featuring the music of Elton John and Billy Joel starring Craig A Meyer and Gregory Scott plus featuring the Rocket Band. One night only – July 6 at 8 p.m.

Moonlight's 40 Birthday Bash will happen July 9 at 7:30 p.m. with Yachtley Crew in concert. Tickets are available for all events via 760=724-2110 or online at moolightstage.com.

Continuing at San Diego Repertory is "Catastrophist," the story of virologist Nathan Wolffe's life's work. Streaming through July 11. Open daily from 12-6 p.m., call (619) 544-1000 or visit SDRep.org to learn more.

Happening elsewhere in town, The Cygnet Theatre is streaming "Guilty Pleasures" online through June 27. [email protected] or, from 12-5 p.m., Monday – Friday at 619-337-1525.

At The Old Globe for the next three weekends there will be live performances featuring Caren Cusack, Eden Espinosa and finally "Thinking Shakespeare," all at 8 p.m., June 22, is the finals for the Poet's Tree poetry competition and can be accessed online at 5:30 p.m. Box Office is open daily 12-6 p.m. at 619-234-5623 or visit TheOldGlobe.org.

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal can be reached at [email protected]

 

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