Review: ‘Once on this Island’ celebrates life and love

Musical opens today, March 30, and runs through Saturday, April 1


Naomi Thomas, Staff Writer

“Once on this Island,” created by Tony award-winning songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, tells a story of an innovative and theatrical Caribbean adaptation of The Little Mermaid.

Skillfully directed and choreographed by Michael Burnett and produced by Amanda Johnson the setting is a mystical take on the island of Haiti in the Antilles. This production features dance numbers full of spirit, and an upbeat percussion supported by musical director Susan McKenzie who conducts the talented pit accompanied by a meaningful score with West African and Haitian influences.

The DHS Productions musical opens tonight, March 30, and runs through Saturday in the DHS auditorium. Tickets are still available in the school’s main lobby during the school day, and at the door at showtime. (See preview here).

The peasants referenced as “black as night” are separated on one side of the island from the Grand Hommes, who are the fair skinned French descendants of the original slave owners living on the other side.

“Once on this Island” begins on a stormy night when a young girl played by 4th-grader Emily Quilli cries out of fear, thus commencing the ancient tale of Ti Moune as told by village storytellers.

Ti Moune is brought to life by junior Eliana Russotti. The peasant girl rescues a wealthy boy — Daniel — from the opposite side of the island and finds herself falling for him. Senior Jonathan Weneck has the role of the boy.

Due to this divide between the social classes, Ti Moune battles through her capacity to love. When Daniel returns to his people, he must deal with his wife-to-be Andrea Devereaux (played by junior Hannah Pucci ), who ultimately shuns Ti Moune due to her low status.

The pretentious gods Asaka, the mother of the earth; Papa Ge, the demon of death; Agwe, god of water, and Erzulie, the goddess of love, preside over the Island. Ti Moune prays to the gods through “Waiting for Life” to ask what her purpose is. In return, they make a bet amongst one another — whether love is stronger than death, with Ti Moune’s life at stake.

Agwe, played by sophomore Ben Pereira, brings a resounding introduction to the gods with the tune,“The Gods Heard Her Prayer/Rain” an energetic tune in which Agwe generates a storm. The tempest sets up the test love and death using Daniel and Ti Moune.

Other Hatters on stage include senior Justin Torres, who powerfully portrays Papa Ge; sophomore Gabby D’Ostilio as Erzulie, and junior Gabriela Lillo, as goddess Asaka, who captivates the audience through an upbeat song, “Mama will Provide,” filled with wisdom.

The actors are accompanied by an impressive ensemble whose heartfelt enthusiasm will leave the audience wanting more. Their performance makes a viewer feel like they are truly on an island.