Pictured: Top Row (L-R): Ricardo Pequenino, Alexandra Quispe, Sari Rosofsky, YooRa Kang
Bottom Row (L-R): Michael Gnansounou, Brianna Clark
How to describe this musical? I think it’s best to go with “Moana meets The Little Mermaid“.
Once On This Island by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Falherty is told as a story or folktale by the villagers and the four gods, Agwe, god of water (Ricardo Pequenino), Asaka, mother of earth (YooRa Kang), Erzulie, goddess of love (Alexandra Quispe), and Papa Ge, demon of Death (Sari Rosofsky). Ti Moune (Brianna Clark) is an orphan peasant girl on her island who falls in love with Daniel (Micheal Gnansounou), descendant of French settlers. She saves him from a car crash, falls in love and journeys to find him at Hotel Beauxhomme.
As a person who treads the line between genuinely enjoying fairy tales/folktales and always finding problems about them, it was hard to accept the plot as it was. I understand what it was trying to do with unifying different classes through love but couldn’t help questioning things like: “Why do people fall in love so easily in this musical?” (Because Erzulie!) and “Why is the villain character suddenly nice?” (Death is not evil after all?)
Regardless, the production was enjoyable. The costumes (Chris Sinosich) were especially well thought-out. Most of them looked handmade and because many of the actors played multiple characters, the costumes helped them change into an entirely new character each time. The completely white costumes of the Beauxhommes in contrast to the colorful clothing of the peasants was also a nice touch, to show that they’re above “the dirt” but also literally showing the colorlessness of their lives.
I was particularly impressed with the blocking and how director Damon Bradley Jang filled up the space. I’ve worked in the Revue stage before; a struggle for stagehands and a director’s nightmare. The only way to travel between the wings is across the stage and the stage itself is tiny with an oddly-shaped thrust with stairs leading down from it. Having the actors appear through the aisles in the audience would’ve required actors to run around through the lobby and even outside the building. There were three clear levels the actors worked on; the platform higher than the stage (where the gods were usually), the stage itself, and the stairs/audience area. The big cast was distributed well throughout these levels, and everyone had something to do in every scene. I feel like the limiting space at the Revue was utilized and filled up very cleverly. However, after Ti Moune grows up, the actor playing Little Ti Moune (Arta Negahban) often watches the story unfold and it was not clear if she was listening to the story as the Little Girl character or Little Ti Moune watching her adult self. Jang also made a bold choice to have a diverse cast representing the Vancouver community opposed to sticking to the racially specific casting of the musical. Because there was so much diversity, it was not distracting or strange, and the story was still conveyed effectively.
Overall, it was an enjoyable and fun musical. Though it is relatively short, 90 minutes with no intermission, it kept the audience engaged and constantly surprised. If you have a chance, go check out the heart-warming musical at the Revue Stage, it’s a limited run, so hurry!