November 25, 1997 in Features

Civic’s ‘Island’ Offers Caribbean Escape

By The Spokesman-Review

“Once On This Island” Friday, Nov. 21, Spokane Civic Theatre

‘Once On This Island” is a perky serving of Caribbean musical cuisine, light on substance but heavy on the spice.

This Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical is essentially a loose Antillean retelling of the “Little Mermaid” story. In this version, the mermaid is a peasant girl, the boy she falls in love with is a privileged aristocrat, and the gulf between them is one of social class, not of biology. It was a surprise hit on Broadway, where audiences felt as if they had gone on a quick 90-minute vacation to the Caribbean.

The Spokane Civic Theatre does a credible job of bringing this show to life. Visually, the show is a swirl of tropical color. The set, by Peter Hardie, features a beautiful wash of tropical-drink colors, and the closing sunset is almost as breathtaking as the real thing. The costumes, by Dee Finan and Susan Berger, create a moving collage of citrus colors.

The vocal quality of this cast - a very young cast - varies a bit more widely than is usual in a Civic main-stage production, but there were several excellent performances. Janean Jay Jorgensen was touching as Mama Euralie, and she has a strong, pure voice.

Christine Cresswell, a Lewis and Clark High School student, showed remarkable versatility in two contrasting roles. As one of the peasants, she was confident and saucy. As the rich French debutante Andrea, she was deliciously haughty and supercilious.

Other fine performances came from Yolanda L. Everette, Bryan R. Jackson and Lisa Foiles.

The quality of the dancing was consistently strong, and director Jean Hardie infused the big dance numbers with a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm. The highlight was the scene in which Melody Moore, as the main character Ti Moune, is talked into a doing a wild, hair-flinging dance at the staid ball of the aristocrats. Moore moved with great confidence and expressiveness.

However, something about the show and its staging made the entire thing seem a bit too much like an extra-long 7-Up commercial. For one thing, the show is entirely too earnest. Where’s the comic relief? We need a clown, a comic subplot, anything to provide some contrast.

Also, Hardie’s staging choices sometimes seemed a bit awkward. In the “Some Girls” scene, Daniel is singing a song to Ti Moune on one side of the stage while Andrea primps in front of the mirror on the other side. This is a nice ironic touch, given the song’s lyrics, but because there is an empty stagewide gulf between them, we are forced to look at one or the other. We can’t watch both, and thus we feel as if we may be missing something important.

These small annoyances would have gone unnoticed if the plot had been more compelling. The plot is both too simple and too predictable to work on the level of pure storytelling.

However, the show does work as a refreshing, high-fructose drink of tropical punch. And that’s all that we really require out of “Once On This Island” - a 90-minute escape to the Caribbean breezes.

, DataTimes MEMO: “Once On This Island” continues through Dec. 20 at the Spokane Civic Theatre. Call 325-2507 for ticket information.

“Once On This Island” continues through Dec. 20 at the Spokane Civic Theatre. Call 325-2507 for ticket information.

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