Olivia Allen & Kavin Moore in Once On This Island. Photo: Redline

Once on This Island

Book & lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Based on My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy
Directed, choreographed, & designed by Tyler Tate

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Spirituality as a theme seems to demand a willingness to sacrifice for others. All mythology contains moral lessons that ask what are we willing to give to others or the larger community. As joyous as it plays, Once On This Island is about exactly such sacrifice.

Once upon a time in the French Antilles, a peasant girl, Ti Moune (Olivia Allen), falls in love with a rich boy, Daniel Beauxhomme (Kavin Moore), and makes a deal with the gods to save his life. The deal and the plot offer much more, a love story, for one, but Ti Moune’s arrangement with Papa Ge (a memorable Lawrence Robertson) allows her reprieve enough to learn some tough lessons of the heart. 

Her story is told to quell the fear of another young girl many years later, a framing device that prompts the best song in a top-notch score, “We Tell the Story”. Because it is reprised at the end, it is the one you are singing on the way to the car, but you could choose many others. The songs are perhaps the biggest attraction of the show, with not one weak link, and the music flows magnificently. A flow that begs for dynamic movement and dance.

In addition to directing, Tyler Tate choreographed that movement, sinuous although communal, broken up by brief but often supercharged eruptions of dance. The show is nothing if not kinetic, and it positions Tate as a formidable presence in Louisville theatre. He had already built a solid reputation as an actor, but now he whets our appetite for his future behind the scenes work.

He guides his ensemble to a level of excellence that fills the stage with energy and excitement, finding joy in the storytelling. Allen and Moore are a marvelous team as the leads, and Tate is fortunate to have some of the best voices in town as his gods: the splendid Erica Yoletta-Goodman as Asaka, the always regal Troy Bell as Agwe, the magnificent Tymika Prince as Erzulie, and Lawrence Robertson as the devious Papa Ge.

Once On This Island is a blast, but there is an argument that ramping up the entertainment value maybe obscurs the important subtext about race, class, and the devestating legacy of colonialism. Indigenous populations were set against each other by the occupying government as a means of controlling the population. The results in real life are far more tragic than depicted here.
Yet it is difficult to rebuff the power of a community of color carrying their history and culture forward through oral history and music. It is a method which not only communicates but embeds the important lessons at a deeper level, and Once On This Island celebrates that tradition most of all.

Featuring Olivia Allen, August Anderson, Amarielle Barbee, Troy Bell, Sicily Bullard, Jillian Cain, Dedra Chandler-Reid, Philip Clemons, Daniela Delvesco, Sheree Edmonds, Salema Jenkins, Arcana Martinez-Gray, Kavin Moore, Alexis Morales, Derrick Palmer, Tymika Prince, Peighton Radlein, Lawrence Robertson, Shauntrice Wilson, & Erica Yoletta-Goodman

Once on This Island

April 7, 8, 10, 13, 14, & 15,  2023

Redline Performing Arts
Henry Clay Theatre
640 S. 3rd St.
Louisville, KY 40202

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.