“Once on This Island” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – March 4, 2020


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

The best part of the touring “Once on This Island at ASU Gammage this week was the festive bright blue show t-shirt with muted tones of yellow that I bought in the lobby before the 90 minute, one-act musical began.  The Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens musical didn’t equal the team’s earlier “Ragtime” triumph.  “Once on This Island” is a morality tale about Ti Moune, a young girl, who uses love to bring various people from different classes together on the French Antilles in the Caribbean.

The show tells an interesting tale but as it unearths the island story in a rather tame manner.  The musical never captures the tale’s apparent fire and emotion although director Michael Arden and choreographer Camille A. Brown try desperately to keep the show appealing and diverse as it relates unfamiliar customs and traditions.  The music while pleasant never causes the spectacular splash that “Ragtime” did.  Many of the songs drag on too long so they lose their initial impact.

So “Once on This Island” is a slow moving piece that is well staged, expertly designed to create the story’s milieu, and it is performed by a stellar ensemble who sing the songs with fervent devotion.  Courtnee Carter was dazzling as Ti Moune and Mimi Crossland was a dynamic Little Girl who weaved in and out of the story.

Unfortunately but typical at most ASU Gammage Broadway musical openings, there were two understudies in key roles at Tuesday’s opening.  The man Ti Moune is attracted to, Tonton Julian, was essayed by Jay Donnell who still made the character dashingly athletic and stirringly romantic.  One of the key Storyteller’s was pleasantly portrayed by Savy Jackson.  No cast member didn’t contribute reverence for the story as they portrayed plot details with glowing sincerity.  A solid orchestra was on stage as part of the action.

Oh well, another Broadway show at ASU Gammage that isn’t a huge hit but is but a tiny gem that tells a far away story with pleasant songs.  At least the show t-shirts are a marvelous purchase.  “Once on This Island” that plays through Sunday, March 8.  For tickets, contact Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: C