Review: Pioneer Theatre’s ‘Once on This Island’ offers lush production

Cast of "Once on This Island." Photo: Pioneer Theatre

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Feb. 29, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Pioneer Theatre Company’s performance of “Once on This Island” is a lush, lovely fable about an island girl who falls in love, and the island gods debating her fate in a world that doesn’t always have fairytale endings.

The one-act musical, with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, is based on the 1985 novel, “My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl” by Trinidad-born author Rosa Guy.

The action, set in the French Antilles archipelago, begins with a horrible storm that frightens a young girl (Ava Lynn Smith.) Others, trying to calm her, retell an island legend of another girl who was brave, and reached out for her dreams.

The play within a play tells the story of a foundling, a little girl swept onto rocks in a storm, and taken in by a loving, elderly couple.

The girl, Ti Moune, grows up on a beautiful, verdant island, which is divided by class distinctions, with the lighter-skinned natives, descended from a Frenchman who fathered children by many of his slaves, and the darker-skinned natives, who are poor and hold less power in the community.

Ti Moune, now a young lady, falls for a lighter-skinned young man, and nurses him back to health after his expensive car crashes and he is left unconscious for days.

But will the gods allow Ti Moune to break with the cultural norms and find enduring happiness? The gods, in colorful costumes, actually debate that decision in song, on the stage.

Ti Moune is played with hope and innocence by New York based actress Tyla Collier, who shines in the role. The man she loves, Daniel Beauxhomme, is played by actor dancer Jordan Alexander.

Most others in the cast play multiple roles, creating different characters with the use of different movements and minor costume changes.

The costumes, done in bright fabrics with playful, almost tribal designs, help set the scenes and show personalities.

The show runs about 90 minutes, without intermission, and offers lots of song and hip-swinging dances.

The show was directed and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre, who played in the original Broadway cast, in 1990. Live orchestration adds to the richness of the production.

It’s a beautiful production, but guarantees no perfect, fairytale ending.

“Once on This Island ” continues through March 7 at Pioneer Theatre, on the University of Utah campus. For tickets and more details, visit pioneertheatre.org.

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