Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Once On This Island

Once On This Island at Knock 'Em Dead Dinner Theater is a little bit of a mixed bag of a production, but it has some wonderful song and dance numbers and tells a beautiful story. The show enters its final weekend this week.

The story is sort of like a fairy tale set on an island in the French Antilles, an island divided between the upper-class descendants of settlers on the one side and the indigenous peoples and their capricious gods on the other. It follows the tale of a young orphan girl, Ti Moune (played at different ages by Eve Angelyne Seguin Du Haime and Rachel Dickerson), who falls in love with a young male aristocrat, Daniel (Daniel Greif), and nurses him back to health after he gets in a terrible car accident on her side of the island. The gods -- Asaka, Mother of the Earth (Starla Bender); Agwe, God of Water (Scot Fetters); Erzulie, Goddess of Love (Megan Tucker); and Papa Ge, Demon of Death (Ben Clegg) -- make a wager among themselves. Erzulie bets that Ti Moune's love for Daniel will survive the long trek across land and water and even defeat death. Ti Moune makes a long journey to find Daniel again, but finds social class boundaries are sometimes harder to cross than geographic ones.

It's an untraditional narrative style for a musical. Much of the time, it's more like the cast is telling you a story than acting it out for you. And when they are acting, it's often with an equally unusual style. This is most noticeable with the characters of the gods; the four actors use a lot of caricature and broad gestures to convey who they are. But overall, it works, and the actors did a fine job telling the story.

Dickerson is the lead, and she has a pretty singing voice for some of her numbers, but in others she's awfully quiet. It seems like the part she's singing on a few of her solos is a little bit out of her range. Greif seemed to run into the same problem on some of his solos. The problem areas tended to be on romantic ballads that were a little slower to begin with, and without powerful voices behind them, the songs came off as a bit dull. Fortunately, the show had many more raucous, lively numbers. My favorite was easily "Mama Will Provide," sung by Bender, who has a powerful, energetic and gorgeous voice. I also loved the dance number during "The Ball" -- it was fast-paced, high energy and well-choreographed.

Tim Schmidt did a great job on the set. The palm trees and bright leaf cutout panels helped evoke the right mood for the show.

Knock 'Em Dead typically has some of the best-costumed shows in Boise, and most of the costumes for this show were excellent -- bright, vivid island prints and flowing fabrics for the indigenous peoples and the gods; starched white trousers setting apart the aristocrats. And then there's Papa Ge, whose wearing these same island prints, plus a black leather vest and a black cowboy hat. For reals. He looks a little like he came to the island by way of a cowboy-themed gay bar. His makeup was good, though -- it made him look deathly.

I've been a little harder on the show in my review than it deserves. It's actually a really good show. It's definitely not your run-of-the-mill musical, it's got some great numbers, and it tells a great story.

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