“Once on This Island” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – March 4, 2020

“ONCE ON THIS ISLAND” HAS GREAT T-SHIRTS EVEN IF THE CARIBBEAN LOVE TALE DOESN’T MAKE GREAT MUSICAL THEATER

“ONCE ON THIS ISLAND”
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

One Response to ““Once on This Island” – ASU Gammage”

  1. Chuck Pennington said:

    Mar 04, 20 at 23:28

    Chris,

    Were you familiar with the show and score when it was on Broadway thirty years ago? If you had perhaps heard it more than once or twice you might have found it more than “pleasant,” as it is one of the few Broadway cast recordings in which I never have to skip a track to enjoy completely. Once On This Island lead to Ragtime and many other wonderful scores by Ahrens and Flaherty, and if people in the position to back Ragtime didn’t think Once On This Island showed a lot of promise, well…

    I attended the revival while still in previews in November 2017 with a 95-year-old former Broadway chorus boy with me (he was in the original Broadway casts of Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon); even he was impressed by the show and its production. The show was staged in the round at Circle in the Square Theatre and incorporated rain, wind, sand, livestock – all in a way that was so unusual for a Broadway show.

    We can agree to disagree about Once On This Island, but to comment that the t-shirt purchase was the best part of the evening for you tells so much more about you than it does the show, its merit, and this touring incarnation. I’m excited to see it again in the limited on stage seating (funny you chose to omit this feature from your review) this Saturday matinee with family who aren’t familiar with the musical at all.

    Sincerely,
    Chuck Pennington
    recent Arizona transplant from Columbus, OH