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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Once on this Island
While this newly envisioned, beautifully directed, and imaginatively staged production at the Paper Mill Playhouse attempts to carry on the enchantment, it does so with a piercing and shrill insistence that often thwarts the more charming aspects of the story and presumably the intentions of the creative team. For the most part, Iím speaking of the excruciating sound level, which not only distorts many of the fine voices, but also disrupts and damages our willingness to connect with the plight of the musicalís heroine Ti Moune, as played American Idol finalist Syesha Mercado. Mercado is a lovely and multi-talented performer Ė her dancing is sublime — but unless the sound engineers can fix the way that her voice is electronically projected, your only relief will be to bring cotton for your ears.
Once on this Island, unlike that other popular musical fairy tale Once Upon a Mattress, is not a parody. It is a fable and as such requires its audience to watch it with the kind of uncompromised belief one brings to Peter Pan.
The good news is that director Thomas Kail (In the Heights) and choreographer Bradley Rapier have combined their vision plenty of calypso movement and dance including imaginative use of puppets and masks. This manages to keep the quaint story of a poor native girl who becomes hopelessly infatuated with a wealthy mulatto land-owner from being simply a distraction. Although the score and the singing pulses almost continuously throughout the ninety minutes, this production flows with a minimum of convolution and a maximum of high-spirited undulating courtesy of Bradley Rapierís pulsating choreography.
Given that Ahrens and Flaherty have collaborated on a number of acclaimed scores, most notably Ragtime, there are, to my ears, very few among the twenty or so musical numbers that are distinguished beyond their quasi-tropical island-inspired ebullience. It is left to the individual personalities of cast members to produce anything that you could call memorable. Within the whimsically impressionistic settings by Donyale Werle, and in costume designer Jessica Jahnís colorful island-wear, a gifted ensemble enlivens a fable that is calculated to bridge fantasy with reality.
Aside from being undermined by the sound system, Mercado projects a winsome effervescence as the ill-fated, impassioned orphan girl destined to become a folkloric legend among her people. Adam Jacobs sings well but leaves little impression as the aristocratic Daniel, the unattainable love of her life. Aurelia Williams fulfills her role of Asaka, Mother of the Earth with predictable earth-shaking results. Kenita R. Miller and Alan Mingo, Jr. were delightful as the old couple who raise the orphaned Ti Moune. The rest of the cast contribute engagingly to a musical fable that tries very hard to be magically reductive, but mostly succeeds in being only marginally seductive.
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company