'Once on This Island' is a colorful hit

September 30, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic


What:'Once on This Island'

Where: Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Through Oct. 31

Tickets: $12

Call: (410) 276-7837

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's "Once on This Island" may be a small-scale show by Broadway standards, but for tiny Fells Point Corner Theatre, this 16-person musical is a whopper.

Of course, Fells Point Corner has never been a theater that lets much of anything stand in its way, and director Terry J. Long, choreographer Stephanie Powell and their ebullient cast certainly prove up to this latest challenge.

Indeed, it seems appropriate that this show coincides with the beginning of extensive renovations of the theater's facility in the former Ann Street Recreation Center. The first $100,000 phase of these renovations will affect the entrance and lobby; phase two will convert the rec center's first-floor gymnasium into a handicapped-accessible second theater space.

Meanwhile, for "Once on This Island," set designer Jim Slivka and scenic artist Jim Sizemore have transformed the second-floor stage into a little Caribbean paradise, complete with brightly painted birds, moons, fish and human figures clearly inspired by Matisse's cut-outs.

The show's plot is adapted from Rosa Guy's novel, "My Love, My Love," which is itself a West Indian adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid." The touching story concerns the love of a peasant girl named Ti Moune for an aristocratic gentleman.

Ignoring the warnings of family and friends, and even causing an uproar among the island gods, Ti Moune eventually proves the power of true devotion.

On Broadway, one of the show's loveliest characteristics was the simplicity of its special effects, many of which -- such as a performer carrying two flashlights to represent a car, or umbrellas strewn with silver streamers to represent rain -- have been borrowed, with no loss of effectiveness, for this production.

In addition, there's an abundance of talent in the cast, beginning with an 8-year-old pixy named Maimouna Hasan Youssef, who plays Little Ti Moune and whose lively solos in the calypso-flavored number, "Some Say," literally stopped the show Sunday's matinee. Kelci Jeter has a tough act to follow as grown-up Ti Moune, but she captures Maimouna's pixy spirit in her buoyant smile.

Other noteworthy performances are delivered by Linda Jones and Perin Tinsley, who exude warmth in their singing as well as their acting as Ti Moune's adoptive parents. And, though at first Barron Singleton's God of Death doesn't seem threatening enough, his sinewy moves and expressive voice soon make him a fearful presence.

Granted, the singers' intonations and harmonies are not universally smooth. And occasionally there are minor traffic jams resulting from the sheer number of bodies on stage (this is the largest cast in Fells Point Corner's history, and that's not including the two on-stage musicians).

However, nothing diminishes the overall joy of this production. Not only do you leave the theater feeling inspired, but you also feel that inspiration is reflected in the institution as a whole. Just as Ti Moune's love is undaunted, so this ambitious community theater will persevere in its efforts to expand its physical plant and artistic mission.

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