Exemplary Storytelling Through Song-A Review of Once on This Island

Rosa Guy’s novel “My Love, My Love: or The Peasant Girl” is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and is the inspiration for Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Tony Award-nominated musical, “Once on This Island.”

Now the story has become the latest stage production presented by 3-D Theatricals, opening at The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday following a premiere earlier this month at Redondo’s Performing Arts Center.

3-D Theatricals “Once on This Island” directed by Rufus Bonds Jr. is a masterfully staged musical about two young star-crossed lovers whose tragedy bring different worlds together. This universal story will transcend race, color, and socioeconomic class to deliver a powerful message about love and sacrifice.

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The success of this musical begins with the picturesque sets designed by Stephen Gifford. Resonating the sounds of the Caribbean is musical director, Corey Hirsch and capturing the rhythmic African-inspired choreography is Yusuf Nasir.

The production also benefits from show-stopping performances by Leah Stewart and Copper Howell as a peasant girl named Ti Moune and her aristocratic love interest, Daniel. A chance encounter brings them together one fateful night when Ti Moune rescues Daniel from a horrific car wreck.

With deep-rooted beliefs, Ti Moune leaves home on an arduous adventure to reunite with Daniel. Stewart does a fine job capturing the wide-eyed innocence and naivety of a woman led by her affections. This is apparent in the earnest scene where she begs her adoptive parents, Mama Euralie (Erika Bowman) and Tonton (Keith Jefferson) for their blessings to let her go.

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Meanwhile, Howell has the delicate task of portraying a Casanova with redeeming qualities. His character may be a womanizer, but Howell gives enough conviction in his performance to gather empathy from the audience. Yes, loyalties are broken but were largely due to his father, Armand’s (David T. Morris) plans for his son’s arranged marriage to Andrea (Jenna Gillespie), a woman of equal social status.

Since childhood, Ti Moune has been guided by four controlling and fickle Gods. They are Agwe: God of Water (Jay Donnell), Asaka: Mother of the Earth (Dominique Kent), Erzulie: Goddess of Love (Daebreon Poiema) and Papa Ge: Demon of Death (Edred Utomi).

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The Gods each take turns in the spotlight, but most spellbinding was Kent in the carnivalesque number “Mama Will Provide” and Poiema in the magnetic “The Human Heart.” Both possess powerhouse vocals, alongside Stewart and Bowman.

The costumes were designed by internet sensation, Nephi Garcia and was clearly inspired by the bright, bold colors of the French Antilles. From the intricate details of the sequined gowns to his exquisite headpieces, Garcia’s immense talent was on display in his lively creations.

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With little dialogue, the breathtaking score by lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime,” “Seussical,” “Anatasia”) is the epitome of exemplary storytelling through song.

The 90-minute musical never misses a beat and will touch even the most stoic hearts. In the end, we learn that faith is of your own free will, devotion may not always be reciprocated, and love and death aren’t always in vain, for it can also break down barriers and be the catalyst for change.

3-D Theatricals “Once on This Island” is a real gem. It’s one of the best to hit So. Cal theaters in a long time. Indeed, this story will gain a new generation of fans when the revival, directed by Tony Award-nominated Michael Arden hits the Great White Way later this year.

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“Once on This Island” is playing at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts until March 5, 2017. Tickets are available by calling the box off at (800) 300-4345 or Order Online.

Photos courtesy of Isaac James Creative

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