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Dreamy, stellar Once on This Island at Encore (Review) March 3, 2023

Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.

Photo Credit: Michele Anliker

There is a stellar production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, the Ahrens and Flaherty musical, currently being presented by Encore Musical Theatre Company and I urge you to get tickets now for this limited run production, You won’t see a better production of it anywhere – in fact, it is Broadway worthy, and I’ve seen both previous Broadway productions of the show.

From the moment you enter the theater, with it’s hurricane tossed belongings surrounding you, to the final seconds of Part of Us (Why We Tell The Story) you will be immersed in a tale of love, despair, fortune, and the circle of life. Once on this Island is many people’s favorite musical – while others have never heard of it. Think Little Mermaid set in the Caribbean. Haiti in specific, although this tale weaves its spell much closer to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale than the Disney Little Mermaid with Arial and Sabastian, including a darker ending. But don’t let that scare you away – this is a musical appropriate for all ages and at 85 minutes you won’t have to worry about losing your young one’s interest. Or your older loved ones insterest either.

Natalie Kaye Clater directs and choreographs with aplomb as the musical spins the tale of orphan Ti Moune (outstanding Leah Wilson) as she grows up having been rescued by Mama Euralie (Bryanna Hall) and Tonton Julian (Mike Sandusky), rescues a rich islander after a car crash (sultry and  passionate Jason Rodriguez), and goes on a journey to take care of him (and fall in love) in the city aided by the “gods” – Papa Ge (Marcus Calderon), Agwe (Dante Murray), Erzulie (Aurora Penepacker) and Asaka (Christina Turner). I could write a paragraph each on these outstanding performances.

Other cast members play various other parts and serve as a greek chorus throughout as the tale is being told to a young girl, who doubles as Little Ti Moune (a very cute Lizzie Dziku). Cali HIll, David Magumba, Jeremiah Porter, Nataki Rennie are wonders at singing, dancing, and acting their respective roles. I can not say enough good things about this exceptional cast and Encore’s fortune to have them all on the stage together weaving this magic. 

Frank E. Pitts musical direction is wonderous – the sounds this cast produces are nothing short of perfect. Ahrens and Flaherty write beautiful and tuneful songs, but singing them is another story – the arrangements are difficult and tight harmonies are essential – and the sound here is pitch perfect. The orchestra sounds three times the size it is, and they work together to create beautiful music. Kudos also to the sound folks, Chris Goosman and Jessica Lynn. Anne Donovan’s props are realistic and fun, and Sarah Tanner’s set is perfect for the space and show. Lighting design by Nikki Belenski and projections by Dave Early look lush and colorful and help evoke the mood in each location.  Marilee Dechart’s costumes are just right for the look of the show and it’s islanders, and fun when creating the gods characters. Keeping it all moving along swiftly and professionally are Danielle Bluteau, Jada McCarthy, Kathryn McIntyre, Molly Omar, and Kate Vanhorn. 

Expect this production to be among the top award winners at the end of the year – which is admittedly still young. Still, I have never seen nor heard a production of this musical regionally that is as stunning as this one. 

My very highest recommendation. SEE THIS SHOW. It’s a late Valentine to Southeast Michigan theater audiences. 

Once on This Island continues through March 12th in Dexter MI – tickets at TheEncoreTheatre.org   

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