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Prepare to be Charmed by Incline’s “Once On This Island”

Review by Laurel Humes of Once On This Island: Incline Theatre

Enchanting is the one-word description of Once On This Island, now onstage at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.

The musical is a fairy tale, where gods rule, and it’s a story of star-crossed lovers.

It’s also a story of class differences: two groups of people, poor and rich, share this Caribbean island. And never meet. Until … well, that’s the fairy tale.

The beautiful peasant Ti Moune (Shonda Moore) rescues the rich Daniel (Jared Roper) after he crashes his car in a storm. She nurses the unconscious young man, falls in love with him and imagines he loves her, too.

When his family takes him back to his side of the island, Ti Moune follows, against all advice. There she is shunned, then loved by Daniel, then – I hope you’ll see the show to learn the outcome.

Once On This Island is a collaboration of Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics), who also created the imaginative shows Ragtime and Seussical. The uniqueness of Island is the lively Caribbean style music and a script that is mostly sung, with limited spoken dialogue.

For Incline Theater, director and choreographer Jay Goodlett has created an enthralling and charming show. The 11-member cast is terrific.

In this story, four gods rule the lives and are worshipped by the peasants. It is no accident that our lovers meet. After hearing Ti Moune’s “Waiting for Life” plea for broader horizons, the gods bet on whether love or death is stronger.

DeAndre Smith is the commanding water god Agwe, who creates the storm that causes Daniel’s car crash. His finest onstage moment is “Rain.”

Tia Seay is earth mother Asaka. She leads a wonderfully sung and danced “Mama Will Provide.”

Brittany Hayes as love goddess Erzulie and Chandler Hoffer as death demon Papa Ge are on opposite sides of the bet. Both have strong voices and dance skills.

Other standouts are El More and Tim Judah as Ti Moune’s loving, protective parents.

Scenic designer Brett Bowling places us in the Caribbean with colorful hanging fabrics, palm trees, and a multi-purpose shack. Costumer Caren Brady’s bright costumes add much to the overall effect.

Once On This Island, first produced on Broadway 1990, just won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Thanks to Incline Theater, we don’t have to travel to New York to see a stellar production of this charming show.

Once On This Island continues through July 1 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.