Once On This Island, currently on tour at the Ordway, is a feast for the eyes, ears and soul. The stage of the Ordway has been transformed into a Caribbean island, complete with sand, bright vibrant colors, an on stage band, and also an on stage audience.
Once On This Island is a story within a story. We (the audience) watch a story be set up and then told, sometimes listening to narration, and sometimes watching the story unfold. The tale at the center of this musical takes place on an island containing two worlds, one of the rich hotel owners and one of the peasants who give off the land day by day, praying to the Gods for favorable weather. Our protagonist is Ti Moune, a young woman who was saved from a hurricane by the Gods as a girl and who finds herself in love with Daniel, a rich boy from the other side of the island. Her journey through life and love is watched by the Gods as they quibble about her fate and whether or not to give her what she wants.
The story goes on from there, playing out in an almost hypnotic way, I could not look away from the stage. Almost all the performers were always present on stage, either taking part in the story or watching it take place from the edges. I have seen more and more theatrical pieces staged this way and I find myself falling in love with the style more each time I see it. This staging just goes to emphasize the collaborative and magical nature of theater, as an art form that can make strangers from all over come together and share a space for an hour and a half to watch a story unfold.
Although this show has a protagonist in Ti Moune, portrayed by the extremely talented Courtnee Carter, who also played the role on Broadway, the show really feels like a story ensemble piece. Including not only all of the actors on stage, but the musicians as well. Everything gelled together so well, the individuals worked together to make a whole that is superb. The real star of Once On This Island is the choreography by Camille A. Brown. It is hard to imagine the story and the theatrical experience being what it is without it. The most emotional and touching moment in the show for me was Ti Moune’s Dance, a song listed on the musicals number list but had no words, all the meaning of the scene communicated through movement.
My one qualm with the show is the turn that the plot takes in the second half. Once On This Island is a love story, and like so many love stories it finds itself giving out different fates to the interested parties. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say if you find yourself confused at the end I doubt you will be the only one. But the story that is being told is a fairytale of sorts, and given the incredible music, dancing and performances I think this one quirk of the show can be forgiven.
Once on This Island will warm you up. It is a must see show for anyone who is looking for an escape or who loves dance. It is currently playing at the Ordway in downtown Saint Paul until February 9th. Click here for more information about the show and how to get tickets.
*Photos of North American Tour Cast by Joan Marcus