Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Venice Theatre's Generations series presented Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's Once on This Island for a five performance run. I attended the last performance on May 21, 2017.
Lynn Ahrens is a brilliant lyricist who can write both serious and comic with equal dexterity and Stephen Flaherty is the only pre-Sondheim composer of real talent in a post-Sondheim theater world. By that I mean that his melodic style owes much more to Richard Rodgers, John Kander, or Charles Strouse than to Sondheim's influences. One of the reasons I love their work is that every one of their scores (even the flops, of which there have been several) are worth a listen.
For the Generations series at Venice Theatre, shows are chosen with an eye toward pieces that all ages can comfortably participate in. They perform A Christmas Carol yearly. Their recent production of Once on This Island was only partially successful on that front because many of the elder performers are busy rehearsing Loveland Goes to Vegas due June 1st. Some of the roles that might have been cast with seasoned performers were cast younger than I have seen in the past. Also, this is the first multi-racial cast I have ever seen for this musical. I rather enjoyed the colorblind casting, again showing Venice Theatre working toward real diversity on their stages.
In the central role of Ti Moune, former intern DaNiesha Carr returned to light up the stage. She was convincingly a girl of 15 or 16. Beatrice Fletcher-Miller and Nethaneel Williams were her adoptive parents Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian. The adorable Alyssa Baker was Little Ti Moune. Ti Moune's love interest, Daniel, of the Beauxhommes, played by Beckett Pfanmiller, was more successful in his solo "Some Girls" than in the evolving story. The Gods and Goddesses who form the storytelling ensemble were Kristi N. King as Erzulie, Goddess of Love; Noelia Altamirano as Asaka, Mother of the Earth ("Mama Will Provide"); Nidal Zarour as Agwe God of Water, who poured it on in "Rain" to great effect; and Kristofer Geddie as Papa Ge, Demon of Death. Stacy Gilson was Andrea, pledged to Daniel since childhood, and Jonathan Hall was Armand. The ensemble was a forceful part of the show, and the dancing was the equal of almost anything seen here on a community theater stage in a very long time.
Director/choreographer Brad Wages is riding a wave of good productions (Gypsy and Sister Act), and this one made it a hat trick. Now that I think about it, all of our community theaters are having good seasons. Wages showed a strong feeling for the natural rhythms of the piece, the folkish sensibility that is pervasive. He choreographed so that his cast was not pushed beyond their abilities, and he had several excellent dancers to lead the others. Music direction by Peter Madpak was excellent. Jonathan Hall's costumes, another extraordinary set by Tim Wisgerhof, and lighting design by John Michael Andzulis all contributed to make Once on This Island a riot of swirling color. Sound design by Dorian Boyd and Jaclyn Ledoux seemed a little off at the performance I attended. It was difficult to hear Ti Moune at times, but it may have just been me.
Sadly, I can not suggest that people rush to Venice Theatre to enjoy a very good production of one of my favorite musicals, because its short run has already ended. I can report that I enjoyed it a lot.
Venice Theater presents Once on This Island through May 21, 2017. 140 West Tampa Ave., Venice, FL. Box Office (941) 488-1115 or www.venicestage.com.