Once on This Island Review – The Gods Be with You

Jayla Bryant as Asaka and Luke JVillanueva as Agwe in ONCE ON THIS ISLAND - Photo by Gloria Ramirez-Plunkett
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Based on a 1985 novel (“My Love, My Love” or “The Peasant Girl” by Rosa Guy), ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is a retelling of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale classic, “The Little Mermaid” – but set in the Caribbean. With book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, the musical was first performed off Broadway in 1990. It soon moved to Broadway in 1991, where it received multiple Tony nominations. When performed in London in 1994, it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical. But it was not until 2017, when the play was revived on Broadway, that it garnered significant critical acclaim and a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Critic Jesse Green of the New York Times described ONCE ON THIS ISLAND as “ravishing.” Need I say more? In 2024, the Kentwood Players proudly present ONCE ON THIS ISLAND for Los Angeles audiences.

Bimei Flores (center), Jayla Bryant, Andre Heimos, Maggie Pan, and Luke Villanueva – Photo by Gloria Ramirez-Plunkett

The time is now and then, and the place is the French Antilles. Young Ti Moune has survived nearly drowning in a flood to find herself an orphan adopted by a peasant couple living on a small island in the Antilles. To calm the frightened child, they tell her a magical story that everyone on this mystical island knows. For this is home of the Gods, spiritual beings who govern every aspect of human life: Asaka (the Mother of Earth/Jayla Bryant), Agwe (the God of Water/Luke Villanueva); Erzulie (the Goddess of Love/Maggie Pan); and Papa Ge (the Demon of Death/Andre Heimos). Even though the Gods are worshipped on this island, they still have their squabbles – leading to their current question: Which is stronger, love or death?

Maggie Pan and Andre Heimos – Photo by Gloria Ramirez-Plunkett

And so we follow the adventures of a grown Ti Moune (Bimei Flores), who longs for love. What better way to test the existential question than to see what happens when this simple village girl falls in love with a rich upper-class man from the other side of the island? And so the Gods arrange an auto accident which leaves the privileged Daniel (Esteban Hurtado) seriously injured and in need of TLC – of course from Ti Moune, who rescues him and falls in love. When Papa Ge comes to take the dying Daniel to the netherworld, Ti Moune selflessly offers to take his place. She is convinced that Daniel loves her and has visions of becoming his wife, but she is sadly mistaken about the ways of the aristocratic world. When Daniel enlightens her – “Some girls you marry, and some girls you love” – she is distraught and miserable. Then Papa Ge gives the dejected and rejected Ti Moune a surprising reprieve. If she kills Daniel, she is off the hook. With knife in hand, she must decide. Will love prove stronger than death?

Bimei Flores – Photo by Gloria Ramirez-Plunkett

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is chock full of melody with a Caribbean beat. In fact, the 90-minute musical has 15 songs to its credit (many with singers and dancers dressed in dazzling attire and clearly having the time of their life). Skillfully directed by Elijah Green with musical direction by Elizabeth Bouton Summerer and choreography by Katie Powers-Faulk, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND throbs with energy and life. The fairy tale musical is captivating, entertaining, and lots of fun.

Luke Villanueva – Photo by Gloria Ramirez-Plunkett

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND runs through June 8, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (Saturday matinees added at 2 p.m. on May 28 and continue through the rest of the run; possible Wednesday matinee performances; no performances over Memorial Day weekend (5/24-26). The Kentwood Players perform at the Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90045. Tickets are $30 ($4 discount for seniors and students available online; group rates of 10+ at $23 per ticket; based on availability, $10 rush tickets at select performances). For information and reservations, call 310-645-5156, bo*******@ke*************.org">email the box office, or go online.


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