note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
. Entering the intimate Black Box Theatre at Arsenal Center for the Arts, theatergoers are transported back in time and place, to a small island in the French Antilles, where storms show no mercy, but the music is lighthearted and rhythmically calypso, and island lore and lure are transfixed in time.
The Blue Spruce Theatre company, which produces one show annually, has put its best foot forward in “Once on This Island,” creating a touching, lovely musical tale for the entire family.
Producers PJ and Jesse Strachman (he also co-directs with Jennifer Condon) have also amassed an impressive cast of 11 and an able crew. Multi-award winning Music Director Dan Rodriguez is seated onstage at the keyboard, leading his group of five splendid musicians, while designer Erik Diaz has created an island atmosphere with his sea-shelled, sandy set; and Lindsay Hurley separates the well-heeled, privileged French aristocrats from the colorfully garbed natives who live on the other side of the island.
In between these two cultures are four mythical gods: Papa Ge, the Demon of Death (David Lucey); Agwe, God of Water (Steven Martin); Erzulie, Goddess of Love (Alaina Fragoso); and Asaka, Goddess of the Earth (Revere’s shining star, Kendra Kachadoorian Alati).
In this story of doomed, forbidden love, three gods do everything in their power to guide and aid these misguided mortals. Not so with Papa Ge, who’s determined to prove that death is stronger than love; and the sly devil strikes a few deals to make his point.
The Strachmans are out to make their own points here, by raising awareness about civil rights issues that still exist and also that love should always reign supreme, despite racial or caste differences.
The plot involves a child who is afraid during a storm, so storytellers relate the myth of orphan Ti Moune to ease her fear. The child evolves into legendary little girl, Ti Moune, who is orphaned in a storm, clutching a tree to avoid rising waters. She is found and adopted by a poor, elderly native couple, Mama Euralie (Abigail Cordell) and TonTon Julian (Ian Flynn). The couple love and protect Ti Moune during her youth, until she finds handsome aristocrat Daniel Beauxhomme (David Carney) near death after a car crash, and nurses him tenderly. Kira Cowan as grown-up Ti Moune is lovely, her dancing, exquisite, especially during her vibrant dance at the ball and her earlier awakening to love and life. And Alexa Niziak in dual roles as little Ti Moune and the little girl exudes poise, gracefulness and professionalism beyond her years.
The cast has captured a cohesion and atmosphere that is captivating. The show flows smoothly from song to song, scene to scene, and Ahrens and Flaherty’s music is delightfully hummable.
Alati brightens the stage when she offers help and guidance to Ti Moune, promising “Mama Will Provide;” while Erzulie earthily explores “The Human Heart”. However, Lucey as the demon of death is more like Pan, an impish character, than frightening or evil. And that’s okay. Although this doomed love story has an unhappy ending, its symbolism is meant to charm, not frighten; to teach, not impede; and to bring hope for happiness to all.
The Strachmans have struck an ideal balance here. Like the play’s final song, “That’s Why We Tell the Story”.
BOX INFO: One-act, 80-minute musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, based on Rosa Guy’s novel, “My Love,My Love,” and loosely on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid,” co-starring Kendra Kachadoorian Alati of Revere, presented by Blue Spruce Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown, through October 24. Performances are Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Admission, $22-$25. Call the Box Office at 800-838-3006