There’s always a worry when a show tours that it will lose its energy once it leaves New York. The original cast is gone, the set is simpler and the venues are much larger. Certainly, for the revival of “Once On This Island” which played at the very intimate Circle in the Square in Manhattan and is now playing at the Cadillac Palace in Chicago, this last concern is no trifling matter. Compare a capacity of 840 to 2,344!
And so while it is inescapable that the tour is a different production in many ways, it was a delight to discover that the passion is the same.
“Once On This Island” tells the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who falls in love with Daniel, a descendant of the French aristocracy. They meet when Daniel is injured in a car accident. Ti Moune nurses him back to health and when he returns to his side of the island, she follows him and enters his world. While Ti Moune and Daniel are learning about each other, the gods of earth, water, love and death are watching and intervening. They are challenging each other to see if love is stronger than death, based on what happens to the two lovers.
The highlights of the show are Courtnee Carter in the role of Ti Moune and Cassondra James as Erzulie (Goddess of Love). Carter brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role that allows you to sympathize with the character, rather than roll your eyes about a modern retelling of “The Little Mermaid” where once again, a girl makes grand sacrifices for a boy she has just met. But for a hint of her strength and defiance, preview her vocals on “Waiting For Life”:
James also had big shoes to fill, stepping into a role played by Lea Salonga on Broadway. But her gentle “The Human Heart” was exquisite.And perhaps the one moment that truly makes you forget that you’re seeing the show in a large theater as opposed to a small theater in the round is during “Ti Moune’s Dance,” a pivotal (and lively!) moment of the show that the cast handles deftly.
The show is one act, 90 minutes with no intermission and once it’s over, you just might want to buy a ticket to see it again.
Get tickets now for Once on This Island through February 2!