Once On This Island Theatre Review - A Tropical Fable of Love, Grief and Hope Lands at the Madrid Theatre

The Golden Performing Arts Center productions of "Once On This Island" runs this weekend only at the Madrid Theatre in Canoga Park

Once on This Island is a less than ordinary fairy tale. In its latest incarnation, produced by the Golden Performing Arts Center at the Madrid Theater, Once On This Island is quite a magical experience.

Annie Gaudioz-Young as Ti Moune in "Once on This Island"

The story takes place on an island where the people are either the island native peasants or the rich “civilized” grandhommes, descendants of the French. The setting: somewhere in time when the rich drive fancy cars and live in hotels, when the poor are scorned for their primitive god worship and their connection with the land, and all people were subject to the whim of the gods.

It is the gods, in fact, who set the fable in motion. Aque, the god of water rescues a peasant girl from drowning one stormy night. She survives the flood by clinging to a tree and is eventually found by an elderly couple Mama (Chelsea Daniels) and TonTon (Spencer Lichtman), who are moved to pity by Erzulie (Sydney Waco, Corina Cherbosque), the Goddess of Love, and take the child home to raise her. They name her Ti Moune (Lindsay Kazan, Annie Gaudioz-Young)

Goddess Asaka teaches Ti Moune to listen to the land

The gods watch as Ti Moune grows up to be a happy restless young girl, waiting for her life to begin. Soon Erzulie and Papa Ge, demon of Death (Adam Lit) decide to use Ti Moune as the settle the debate: what is more powerful, love or death. They conveniently create a storm where under which the Prince Beauxhomme crashes his car, and make sure that Ti Moune is in the right place at the right time to finds and rescues him.

Thinking that this is the meaning she has been looking for, T Moune nurses and prays over Prince Daniel (Jake Lipon) night and day until his people come to take him back home. By now, she is infatuated and follows him to the great city, determined to care for the prince personally. Daniel reluctantly agrees and soon grows fond of Ti Moun, despite the fact that she is a peasant girl, a person beneath him; and even though he himself is betrothed to another.

The gods watch from above...

And the gods are watching…

Once on This Island is not a super complex musical, and could quite aptly be described as “Romeo & Juliet Lite” wrapped in a “Little mermaid” island motif. While the story is it a bit challenging to terms of the narrative voice (various cast members rotate in narrating between dialogue and songs), plot is fairly simple: Ti Moune wants what everyone tells her she can’t have. Instead of witnessing the act of two people falling in love, the musical explores love as a concept and how it is woven into our lives to create a connection to the earth, to other people and to powers greater than ourselves. Barring the perpetual problems with volume between the vocals and the orchestra, a constant rebalancing act for this space, the show has strong performances and two shining capable casts.

Stepping in Time with Mother Earth

This production is completely barefooted, outfitting its performers in the finest beach bum attire. High marks should be given to Joan Hurwit for her minimalist set design that is beautifully lit by lighting designer Ric Zimmerman. Choreography is king in this story where dance, for the island natives, equals a celebration of life, love, happiness, hope; an expression of almost every emotion. Well done choreographer Amber McGindley. Once on This Island is directed by Golden Performing Art Center’s Jaclyn Miller; musical  direction by Robert Petrarca.

Adam Lit (right) and Company in "Once on This Island"

Once on This Island is a bubbly fun family experience and one of my favorite Golden productions at the Madrid so far. At ninety-five minutes, the one act show is a great match for the youthful energy of its spirited teenaged performers. Every young actor one stage answered the harrowing challenge of singing and dancing in key and in unison, no small feat for the most seasoned performers. And more importantly, the cast seem to be having fun and that translated straight to a great musical experience for the audience.  

Once on This Island is the spring production of the Golden Performing Arts Center, a 501 C non-profit organization. Their focus is on children and young adults in the performing arts.

Madrid Theatre
21622 Sherman Way,
Canoga Park, CA 91303

March 20 - 7:30pm
March 21 - 7:30pm
March 22 - 12:30pm & 4:30pm

For Tickets,
Call 818-347-9938


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