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Shylin Jordan, Mariyah Martin, Christian Edwards, Kyndia Motley, (sitting) Amarriah Russell. Photo: LCC
Once On This Island
Based Upon the Novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy
Book & Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Erica Denise Bledsaw
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
Within the spacious Louisville Central Community Center, there is a group of talented actors, singers, and dancers working hard to show off their talent, under the masterful leadership of Erica Denise Bledsaw. The culmination of the weeks of rehearsal and long days is a performance of the Broadway hit Once On This Island. Sure, sure, Louisville is full of theater troupes, what makes this group so different? Not a matter of what, but of who makes it a bit different is more to the point. The Youth Repertory Theater Troupe of Louisville is comprised of teenagers and young adults, many of whom reside in the West End of Louisville. And from what I witnessed opening night are some emerging shining stars that are ready to strut their stuff and show off their chops.
Once On This Island is about a young shipwrecked girl named Ti Moune (Ammariah Russell) who is saved by the Gods: Papa Ge (Shylin Jordan), Asaka (Mariyah Martin), Agwe (Christian Edwards) and Erzulie (Kyndia Motley). Ti Moune lands in a tree on a French Island in the Caribbean and is rescued by Mama Euralie (Briana Barker) and Tonton Julian (Devin Holley), who believe that the Gods spared her life for a reason.
As Ti Moune grows she questions why she was spared, and after praying to the Gods a fierce storm erupts that causes havoc all across the Island. Caught in the turmoil of the storm is Daniel Beauxhomme (Chase Dean), who is from the more affluent side of the Island. While trying to get back home he crashes his car. Ti Moune rescues Daniel and despite how desperate his injuries were, she knew that her purpose in life was to save his. She nursed Daniel to health and quickly fell in love, even pledging her soul to the Gods in order to spare his life.
It came to pass that Ti Moune was living with the Beauxhommes and rumors were flying about. Ti Moune and Daniel became very close and even spoke of marriage. Those around her, including the family and the Gods, warned her to be careful, she would not hear of it. On the night of the great Masquerade Ball, it is revealed that Daniel is promised to another, Andrea (Hajiya Clayborn), through their family connections.
Distraught, Ti Moune is thrown out of the community and lies outside of its gates for two weeks, without any sustenance, waiting for Daniel. On the day of the wedding, Daniel sees Ti Moune at the gate and says a final goodbye to her. Inconsolable, Ti Moune dies in her parents’ care. What happens next? Well, I truly suggest that you go see this for yourself.
The group that makes up the Storytellers, Peasants, and Guests of the Ball were pretty tight. Very rarely did I hear, within the choral parts, one person’s voice over another. The same can be said about Carly Franklin’s well-researched and high-energy choreography. While there were a few times that not everyone was synched up perfectly, the dancing was fantastic. It added great depth and tribute to the story.
What about the singing and acting? Shylin Jordan was menacing as the God of Death, but I did have trouble understanding her when she performed. I think part of it could have been the sound from the microphone she was wearing, but throughout the performance, it was all pretty garbled and/or mumbled. When I did hear some clarity, it was quite good. Another God who had a little bit of that same problem was Kyndia Motley’s Erzulie. Her “The Human Heart” was nice but it needed a little more clarity in the delivery. Mariyah Martin’s Asaka and Christian Edwards’ Agwe did quite well in their vocalizations. When the Gods performed in quartet and coro, their voices blended rather nicely.
Aside from the fantastic gymnastics that he displayed, Chase Dean did very well as Daniel. He was sensitive and terse when the need was there and he has a decent singing voice (“When We Are Wed”). So, does Najiya Clayborn. Briana Barker as Mama Euralie must have studied when mothers get fed up with their children because she was spot on with her interactions with her daughter.
I was absolutely wowed by the developed voice that came from Devin Holley as Tonton Julian. I would like to know how old this young man is. His bio stated that this is his fourth trip to the Island, having previously played Agwe and Asaka. I think Julian is a great fit for Mr. Holley. From the sound of it, it looks like theater may be on his career path. Go for it!
Ammariah Russell crushed her role as Ti Moune. Her singing was fairly consistent throughout, save for a couple of spots, and her dancing was always pointed and filled with verve and commitment. While the acting could have been subdued a little bit, it wasn’t distracting. I just think a little nuance would have added more depth.
There was a moment within the show that I stand in ovation to all of you that were on stage at that time, that being the scene with “Forever Yours” (Reprise) and “A Part of Us”. How you all performed those pieces and your delivery was superb.
Production was well executed. I appreciated the white background with Gerry Kean’s lighting effects that changed from day or night. The set looked like a large rock that was slowly carved out by the tides of the ocean. High upon the set sat the fantastic orchestra, wearing aquatic life-themed hats and led by Wesley Thomas. The costumes curated by LaShondra Hood were well thought out and colorful.
As I mentioned, Louisville is blessed with a number of theatrical groups and I am certainly putting TYRTTOL on my list of who to keep an eye out for.
Once On This Island
July 27 @ 11:00am
July 27, 28, 29, Aug 3, 4, & 5 @ 7:00pm
July 29 @ 2:00pm
The Youth Repertory Theater Troupe of Louisville
Louisville Central Community Center
1300 West Muhammad Ali Blvd.
Louisville, KY 40203
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.