Review: 'Once on this Island' at Firehouse Theatre

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  • Shawn Stalter, Contributing Critic - Dallas/Ft. Worth

Firehouse Theatre’s production of the Caribbean-inspired, Little Mermaid adaptation, “Once on this Island,” enchants with uptempo, dynamic and heart-wrenching performances. Through spirited choreography and well-harmonized vocals, the talented cast breathes a gust of warm tropical air into Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s story and music.

Winner of 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, “Once on this Island” tells the story of a vibrant young peasant girl, “Ti Moune,” who falls in love with a boy from a wealthy family, “Daniel.” Backed by her special connection to the gods, “Ti Moune” rescues “Daniel” after he suffers a tragic car accident and she nurtures him back to health. Unfortunately though, due to her low social status, her blossoming love for “Daniel” is scorned by the boy’s family.

At its core, “Once on this Island” delivers a much-needed inward look at the struggle for freedom in the face of a world gripped by prejudice. The story seems especially pertinent today in an environment where people of color continue to experience alienation and discrimination. Director Marilyn Setu sums up the importance of this production by stating that, “In today's social climate, at a time when our politics and headlines challenge us with building literal walls around our borders, this story feels more relevant than ever.” By bringing this production to life, Firehouse Theatre once again proved itself to be a creative space where the performing arts in DFW can blossom and educate.

The production’s well-delivered message of the vital role of inclusion, love and mutual respect for people of all colors and walks of life resonates throughout the story. This diverse cast’s ability to cohesively tell a tale which is as heart-warming as it is emotionally painful was a remarkable sight to behold. The surging and dynamic choreography courtesy of Christian O’Neill Houston and uptempo Calypso beats from musical director Cherish Robinson brought this story to life in a visceral and authentic way.

In the starring roles of “Ti Moune,” “Daniel,” “Mama Euralie” and “Tonton Julian,” Ashley Ragsdale, Jonah Munroe, Elizabeth Coleman and Anthony Washington brought poise and dynamic vocal talent to the stage. Additionally, the graceful and ethereal performances of the gods and goddesses “Asaka,” “Papa Ge,” “Erzulie” and “Agwe,” from performers Jason Solis, Colby Calhoun, Kayla Jackson and Sadat Hossain, helped the audience keep pace with the nuances of the unfolding story.

The cast’s vibrant, Caribbean-inspired costuming courtesy of Jessica Layman, and the production’s meticulously-detailed stage design by Wendy Rene’e Searcy was remarkable. Despite a few technical hurdles with sound, the cast’s energized performance of this thought-provoking piece was spot-on. Exceptional choreography combined with authentic costuming and a wide range of rich vocal talent make this a must-see show theater lovers in the DFW area.

Firehouse Theatre’s production of “Once on this Island,” directed by Marilyn Setu runs through April 14, 2019. The show’s cast includes Ashley Ragsdale performing the role of “Ti Moune,” Jonah Munroe as “Daniel,” Elizabeth Coleman as “Mama Euralie,” Anthony Washington as “Tonton Julian,” Jason Solis as “Asaka,” Colby Calhoun as “Pape Ge,” Kayla Jackson as “Erzulie,” Sadat Hossain as “Agwe,” Selmore Haines III as “Armand,” Chelsea Bridgman as “Andrea,” and Alexis Muturi as “the young Ti Moune.” Ensemble storytellers included Branden A. Bailey, Devynn Becerra, Natassia Diggs, Gen Donnell, Tianta Harrison, Jori Jackson, Nicholas Hill and Andre WIlliams.

Reserve your seat for an upcoming performance by calling the box office at 972-620-3747 or visit Firehouse Theatre online at thefirehousetheatre.com.

Photo credit: Jason Anderson, Pendelton Photography