TiMoune (Ashley Jackson) professes her love for Daniel (Adrian Robinson) in “Once on this Island, the current production at The Lakewood Playhouse. (Photo by Dean Lapin)
By Lynn Geyer
Hans Christian Andersen wrote the children’s story, Walt Disney filmed it, Rosa Guy adapted it to her novel “My Love, My Love,” Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty of Seussical fame put it on Broadway but it took Lakewood Playhouse to bring this story of love and sacrifice to you.
This reworking of the story of “The Little Mermaid” is an exciting and colorful Caribbean musical. Aware that it’s hard for mermaids to walk on stage, the playwrights changed TiMoune to a foundling child, adopted by a poor island couple, who has the misfortune to fall in love with Daniel, the son of wealth who lives on the other side of the island. After making a pact with the gods, TiMoune saves Daniel’s life at the expense of her own. However, she does live on in the spirit of the island.
Because of David Wehmhoefer’s exotic set, one can almost feel the West Indies breezes upon entering the intimate theatre. The walls above the side seats are resplendent with murals ‚Äî one an island sunrise, the other sunset. These overlook the gentle “mountains” and waterfalls which bracket two sides of the circular stage.
Diane Runkel’s authentic costumes add a cacophony of color to the island feel as the actors swirl to the direction of Katie Stricker’s choreography. The music conducted by Terry O’Hara keeps the beat of this operatic musical of ill-fated love.
With the aid of Stage Manager Kelly Nathanson, Director Julie Halpin brings the tale to life and what a life! The space rumbles and bounces to the rhythm of music and dynamic voices. The melodies run the gamut of music: spiritual, gospel, soul and, of course, island airs.
Frequently, there is one standout performer in any play ‚Äî the actor who acts better, the singer or dancer who performs better than the others. Not so in this production. All performers are outstanding!
The Storyteller chorus is comprised of Kat Christensen, Celina Cordova, Aya Hashiguchi, Jack House and Ellyssa Payant ‚Äî all are equally talented. Alex Domine is Armand, our hero’s strong-voiced father. Marisa Kellcy is Andrea his fianc?©e. Six-year-old Jade Cooper is charming as TiMoune as a child.
Ashley Jackson is the adult TiMoune; Adrian Robinson is her love, Daniel. The couple exude talent in acting, song and dance.
TiMoune’s adoptive father, Ton Ton, is ably played by Angelo Mills. Roxanne Jackson is his wonderfully animated wife, Mama, with a remarkable voice.
This leaves us with the island gods. Tena DuBerry is Erzulie, the Goddess of Love with a voice to match her title. Jamelia Payne is Asaka, the Goddess of Earth and as a true Earth Mother, her dramatic movements and voice demand attention. Eddie James is Agwe, the God of Water. He spills forth his voice and actions with the power of a waterfall.
Jeff Brown is Papa Ge, the God of Death. Not since Rex Ingram popped out of the Genie’s bottle in “The Thief of Bagdad” have I heard such a commanding voice filled with all the fear and awe his name demands.
The entire production is a thrilling experience of sight, color and sound in keeping with The Lakewood Playhouse’s reputation of excellent theatre.
“Once on this Island” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit Depot, through April 20 each Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.; there is also a Pay-What-You-Can performance scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, April 3 and an Actors’ Benefit matinee Saturday, April 26 at 2 p.m.
Take your summer island holiday this spring at the Lakewood Playhouse and swim in the beauty and excitement of “Once on this Island.”