Reviewed by Tony Annicone
"Once On This Island" is Academy Players final show of their 45th season. It takes place on an island in the French Antilles. The show is a musical legend of romance between a peasant girl, Ti Moune, and a rich boy from the city whom she saves from certain death. Director Michael Farrelly assembles the most energetic and outstanding singing and dancing casts I have seen around. This 21 member ensemble will have you ready to jump out of your seats and sing and dance out the door making this a must see show.
Michael has cast everyone perfectly in their roles and their voices and talent shine forth on the tropical island setting. It is truly an ensemble show. He is aided by musical director Joe Carvalho and choreographer Michelle Gonya-Pezzilli. They make the singing and dancing mesh perfectly into sparkling night of music. Michael brings out the best in his performers especially in the many emotional moments in the show. The humor and pathos are blended just right by this seasoned director and his two associates. This show is a breath of fresh air in the world of musical theatre. Bravo to all three of you for a job well done.
At the center of the story is the character of Ti Moune who is played by Bethany Giammarco as an adult and Abby Rose as a child. Both girls have fantastic voices.(I was very impressed with little Abby's strong vocal prowess at a tender age) Bethany gets to show the layers of her emotions in her love of Daniel and her "Waiting For Life" and "Forever Yours" songgs are beautifully sung, too. She reaches the heights of ecstasy while falling in love and the depths of sorrow when she is rejected because of class differences.Bethany sings like Eponine in Les Miz doing a splendid job as the leading character.Her interactions with her adopted family are very real and moving and she has some excellent moments with the gods of the island especially the Demon of Death, Papa Ge. Bethany recoils in horror when he tries to take Daniel from her and she refuses to listen to him when he tries to get her to kill for him. Don Ringuette plays Daniel wonderfully. He has a great tenor voice and he can dance as well as he sings. His solo when he tells Ti Moune about the other girls on the island, "Some Girls" is soulfully done. Don delivers the goods in another stand out performance in this show. (Brandon DiMatteo plays little Daniel and shows he can sing and dance just as well as the others in the show.)
Playing the flashiest roles in the show are the four gods.Bill O'Neill as Agwe, god of water, shows off his singing talent in the "Rain" song while the chorus dances with umbrellas. He is an outstanding actor and gives another shining performance. Betty Nolan as Asaka, mother of the earth sparkles in her "Mama Will Provide" song. She belts out this number to show Ti Moune she will be taken care of by her. The cast does an energetic Calypso dance during the number choreographed brilliantly by Michelle. Betty's prowess as a songstress comes through in this role. The gorgeous, Taryn Mallard-Reid as Erzulie, goddess of love is dynamic whether singing, acting or dancing. She gives strength to her character by her being kind and gentle to Ti Moune. Taryn sings one of the prettiest songs in the show, "The Human Heart", and the harmonies by the chorus blend perfectly showing Joe's hard work. Her red dress and all the colorful costumes brighten up the stage. The last god is the evil god of death who is played by Donald Dallaire, a human dynamo. This kid can sing and dance up a storm. His character is so malevolent and wicked making you despise the villian but cheer the superb work by this actor. His song "Forever Yours" is powerfully sung and will frighten you by its intensity.
Playing Ti Moune's adopted parents are veteran performers, Carl DeSimone as Ton Ton Julian and Pat LaVornia as Mama Euralie. They show the warmth of love to this orpahned girl finding her in a tree during a violent storm. Their acting experience comes through in their portrayals and their vocals are shown in the "One Small Girl", "Pray" and "A Part of Us" songs. Two other characters who show their dark side are Ryan Kenny as Armand, Daniel's father and Christine Treglia, Daniel's soon to be wife, Andrea. Ryan is a well trained dancer who gets to show off his voice in "The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes"song and shows his evilness when he puts a curse on his son. Christine is excellent as the snooty wealthy rich girl who finds the beautiful peasant Ti Moune beneath her. She sings of her contempt for the poor girl and gloats after she weds Daniel. Christine plays this part and one of the many storytellers, too. Rounding out this splendid cast as the storytellers who sing and dance are Carol Allen, Amanda Castore, Justin Connor, Dan Fisher, Eve-Marie Kukulka, Lauren Steingold, Jennifer Shirley and Joe Turchetta. Congratulations to all who make this a show to be very proud to be in. What a way to close your season with a surefire crowd pleaser.