“Once on This Island,” the hit Broadway musical which opens tonight at the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, is based on a lyrical novel by Trinidad author Rosa Guy.
Yet at its core, it’s a Caribbean version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale.
Instead of a fishy heroine, it’s about a poor peasant girl, Ti Moune, who falls in love with a French Antilles aristocrat, Daniel Beauxhomme. Race and class – not fins and salt water – are what stand in the way of this romance.
“A 90-minute Caribbean fairy tale told in rousing song and dance … a joyous marriage of the slick and folkloric,” said New York Times critic Frank Rich.
That was in 1990, when the mostly unknown songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty debuted this musical.
Rich gushed about the “high-stepping, swivel-hipped calypso routines, ecstatic ritual dances to demanding gods.” He called it “wall-to-wall dancing, movement and mime.”
It ran for more than a year and picked up eight Tony nominations. Ahrens and Flaherty would go on to even bigger Broadway success with “Ragtime” and “Seussical.”
The CdA Summer Theatre production is directed by producing artistic director Roger Welch, with choreography by Christopher Moll and musical direction by Chris Thompson. This show, with its island-beat style, will have a smaller than usual pit orchestra of six pieces.
“Though they have borrowed freely from the musical culture of their setting, the composer and lyricist do not pretend to authenticity, choosing instead to filter the story’s environment through their own sensibility,” said Rich.
Ti Moune will be played by Oyoyo Bonner, who is majoring in theater at Brigham Young University. Gabe Lawson, a sophomore at Texas Christian University, plays Beauxhomme.
The rest of the cast includes Tyler Andrew Jones, Joanne Coleman, John Deveraux, Julianne R. Johnson-Weiss, Sarah Russell, J. Reese, Keyonna Knight, Yohannes Murphy and Sara Puckett.