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    CenterStage's Once on This Island
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    When CenterStage’s Artistic Director John Leffert helms a lesser-known production like Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Once on This Island, he commits with such transcendent passion, you leave revitalized, as if the show has been a favorite all along. With vivacious choreography (by CenterStage returning champion Frank Goodloe III), the life of the folk story erupts with tribal cadence fluttering through bounds of movement across the stage. The setting of the non-period piece Leffert imagined served superbly, mythological context backdrop for a chromatic tropical Eden sprung to life.

    Based on the novel My Love, My Love written by Rosa Guy, loosely based on The Little Mermaid with a calypso flourish, you will find some significant connections between these conjured accounts; brazen prejudices, an injury-interlaced-opportunity for lovers to meet, the doe-eyed leap into unadulterated devotion, apprehensive parents juxtaposed with their children’s unsullied world view, transformative journeys, and bargaining with fate for a different life. But there are dramatic distinctions as well, which keep this islander’s fairytale with a twist increasingly compelling, even withstanding the one hour, twenty minute long show with no intermission.

    As Leffert promised, the pace remains buoyant as ever, largely thanks to the scintillating musical score and the wickedly talented cast that performs it with effortless execution. Say hello to many CenterStage veterans, along with newcomers and deeply promising, budding actors who more than hold their own on stage. Resplendent costuming, courtesy of the sparkling mind of Melissa Shepherd, will keep your awestruck gaze fixed, particularly with the costumes of the four gods: Tymika McDonald’s Erzulie, the Goddess of Love, with a gorgeous symphony of pinks, reds, and intricate gold detailing, including an exquisite headdress. Aundrey Ligon, Jr.’s Agwe, the God of Water, with draping robes of cerulean, sapphire, and indigo, and fabric integrated to mimic the ebb and flow of a powerful tide rising from the ground. Tymika Prince’s Asaka, the Goddess of the Earth, with majestic elements of rich, stunning colors interspersed with earthly tones and a costume that moves like nature swaying with the breeze. Lastly, but certainly with looming stature, Alonzo Richmond’s Papa Ge, the God of Death, circles the stage ominously, complete with skull-adorned top hat (sovereign of the deceased with warped elegance) and shadowy dark eye circles.

    The costumes are especially complemented when places against the framework of Michael F. Hottois’ enticing scenic design and Theresa Bagan’s dazzling lighting design. Leffert praised Hottois as his mentor who “taught [him] everything he knows,” and the set is a reflection of an endless well of creativity. Pay special note to a spectacular scene with umbrellas and raindrops, birds that soar and flap their wings off stage, and the simulation of a car with a thrilling use of flashlights. Impressive, live-action props, luxurious, ethereal attire, and a swimming band of vivid color really enable these four exceptional actors/actresses to command their otherworldly roles as gods with panache.

    CenterStage's Once on This Island

    Cierra Richmond is like a tender gust of eager warmth in her breakout lead role as Ti Moune. Her honeyed voice hits a melt-your-heart sweet spot swirling with acute gusto, wavering between youthful exuberance, ardent conviction, and riveting vulnerability. Juxtaposed, Frances Lewis’ effervescence as a storyteller shines fiercely. Particularly in her scenes as Andrea, you will find yourself immensely appreciating her droll sassiness, which is a credit to Lewis’ engaging delivery.

    Patricia Mathison as Mama Euralie is all-too-convincing; I could hear my own mother’s heartbreak in her impassioned, woeful intonations of her daughter’s name, “Ti Moune.” Both Mathison and Troy Bell, as Tonton Julian, had standout roles in The Color Purple, CenterStage’s brilliant closer to the 2013-2014 season, and continue to shimmer with emotional depth and stirring vocals. The father/daughter relationship between Bell’s Tonton and Cierra Richmond’s Ti Moune resonates palpably, particularly in the scene where Richmond says if she were to glance backward at her current life, she will never be able to follow her destiny.

    Not only for helpless romantics, Once on This Island is also the perfect show to see with your family, and it will offer brilliant perspective clarity for both parents and children alike. Instead of The Little Mermaid interpretation, where the naïve, love-struck girl disobeys her father at all costs, the heroine in this tale firmly asserts her desires, but still yearns for the blessing from her parents. Ti Moune is still swept with emotion, her unjaded heart open and exposed, but she seems to handle situations with greater maturity, and always keeps her larger role in the cosmos in mind.

    CenterStage's Once on This Island

    Leffert’s Once on This Island hums with “the courage of a dreamer” and will “[make you] rise like yeast.” Prepare to experience the rush of falling in love, the sensitive perils that come with it, but none of it overshadowed by Ti Moune’s unwavering course in the face of adversity. Everyone else on the island is content with the heavenly structure, but only Ti Moune dares to subvert the order of nature. That bravado, even with all the trials and tribulations she must endure for love, is precisely what makes this a story worth telling; and one worth watching, in all of its marvelous, dynamic glory.

    Once on This Island runs February 12th-22nd. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 at the door. Call 502-238-2709, or visit the website by clicking here.  It’s an all-African American cast in honor of African American History month, and I assure you: this cast is tremendous. Go see it this coming Valentine's Day weekend, and you will leave the theater still singing the infectious tunes.

    Showtimes:

    Thursday, February 12 at 7:30pm

    Saturday, February 14 at 7:30pm (Valentine’s Day!)

    Sunday, February 15 at 2:00pm

    Sunday, February 15 at 7:00pm

    Monday, February 16 at 7:30pm

    Thursday, February 19 at 7:30pm

    Saturday, February 21 at 7:30pm

    Sunday, February 22 at 2:00pm

    Sunday, February 22 at 7:00pm

    **

    Up next, Fiddler on the Roof, March 12th through the 29th. Make sure you see CenterStage’s final show of its 100th season!

    The audiences on opening night were treated to a first-ever glimpse into the enthralling season that awaits for next year at CenterStage. 

    Preview of Next Year’s 2015-2016 Season:

    The Who’s Tommy

    9 to 5: The Musical

    Oliver!

    Big Fish

    How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

    Patsy Cline: A Life in Concert

    The Rocky Horror Show

    **

    If you have not had the joy of seeing a CenterStage production yet, prepare to fall in love with theater all over again. 

    Cover Photo: Courtesy of CenterStage; Logo Photo: Courtesy of CenterStage's facebook page; Third Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock/Bakhtiozin Alexey; Fourth Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock/ZiZ7StockPhotos; Fifth Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock/Nejron Photo

    Julie Lamb's picture

    About Julie Lamb

    Curly-haired owner of one massive sweet tooth, believer of Harry Potter and Disney fairytales, and a fierce lover of all things literary and the arts.

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