From a cold, cheerless winter night to the warmth of a tropical island: This is the feeling you immediately get as you are shown to your seat at Swift Creek Mill Theatre. Tom Width’s clever set direction portrays an island in the Caribbean, complete with palm trees, a beach and a bright sun. But there is a dark side to this tropical paradise, which we gradually understand may be Haiti. Superstition rules over the spirits of the native population, just as the light-skinned descendants of the original French planters rule over their lives.
A clap of thunder and the cry of a frightened child open the show. The child is comforted by the native peasants. They tell a story in exuberant song and dance of how the child’s destiny will be ruled by the traditional island gods of life and death, as well as by their government rulers. The island is divided between the Grandes Hommes rulers, descendents of the French planters, and the poor peasants. The child becomes a beautiful girl and her destiny leads her to cross the divide, and the central story of a Caribbean Romeo and Juliet emerges.
Once Upon This Island is authentically cast. The cast is tremendously gifted vocally, telling the story mostly through song. The choral singing is beautifully arranged. The dancing is wonderfully acrobatic, expressive and energetic, with amazing choreography by Leslie Owens-Harrington. Energy exudes from the cast and almost makes you want to join them.
The whole cast is brilliant, but I think special accolades go to Kris Roberts for her performance as Ti Mount, the young girl. Her character is well defined and believable; her voice is crystal clear and full of feeling and emotion. Danron Tyre plays Daniel Beauxhomme, her love interest, and he gives a strong performance. Keydron Dunn portrays a frightening and commanding Papa Ge, Demon of Death. Odessa Hott, the youngest member of the cast, is only 9 years old, playing Little Ti Mount. She has amazing talent for one so young; she has a strong singing voice and is a little charmer. I predict she will have a bright theatrical future.
The gods of Earth, Love and Water are convincingly played by Victoria Williams, Katrina Lewis and James Opher. Daniels’ fiancée is attractively portrayed by Taylor Walls, and Iman Shabazz plays multiple roles, most importantly Daniel’s dictatorial and powerful father.
The small orchestra led by Paul Deiss adds excitement, exuberance and an authentic Caribbean flavor to the action. Width’s set is attractive and evocative without overpowering the drama, and Maura Lynch Cravey’s costuming is colorful and convincing.
Book your seats for this musical love story, set in the steamy tropics. You will love it.