The Epiphany Players Drama Ministry of Centerville’s Epiphany Lutheran Church delivers a wonderfully heartfelt, joyously sung production of the1990 Tony Award-nominated musical “Once On This Island.”
Composed by Tony winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime”) and adapted from Rosa Guy’s 1985 novel “My Love, My Love,” this Caribbean-immersed show inherently appeals with its straightforward, touching emphasis on a young peasant girl’s coming-of-age. The effervescent yet strong-willed Ti Moune (sprightly portrayed by the winsome Brianna Russ) adores the wealthy Daniel (a charming, sensitive Timmy Seiler) but is tested by her gods to embark on a journey that will ultimately explore the depths of her love. In spite of prejudice and adversity, Ti Moune risks her life for Daniel, propelling engrossing themes of acceptance, sacrifice and hope to compelling degrees.
The musical’s delightful structure requires the action to come forth by way of multiple storytellers, which director/choreographer Megan Wean Sears handles with aplomb as her exuberant cast cheerfully pulls the audience into Ti Moune’s whimsical world. Anyone who saw Sears’ exemplary production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” last summer at Epiphany knows how effortlessly she guides a large ensemble, and her 60-member cast of varying ages does not disappoint. The excitement, suspense and tenderness within the tale is not lost as the cast, maintaining credible dialect throughout, grounds the proceedings with an earthy vivacity bolstered by Ahrens and Flaherty’s terrific score marvelously bookended by the ensemble-driven “We Dance” and “Why We Tell the Story.” Sears also provides excellently fluid stagecraft for the bouncy “Some Say” and the dramatic, nearly show-stopping “Pray.”
In addition to the aforementioned Russ and Seiler, Sears’ strong principals are committed and engaging. As the four omnipresent gods, Kathy Meyer (Asaka, mother of the Earth), Desmond Thomas (Papa Ge, demon of death), Kandis Wean (Erzulie, goddess of love) and Bryan Burckle (Agwe, god of water) are a colorfully commanding quartet. The radiant Meyer particularly brings gospel-tinged vivaciousness to the toe-tapping Act 1 finale “Mama Will Provide.” The delectably evil Thomas displays dynamic intensity and powerful vocals. The expressive, graceful Wean is a compassionate presence supplying a beautiful rendition of “The Human Heart” filled with poignancy and soul. Burckle joins Thomas in conveying imposing authority and a fittingly intimidating aura. Elsewhere, the emotional Meghan Rupper (in a first-rate, breakthrough performance) and amiable Michael Shannon gently coalesce as Ti Moune’s devoted parents Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian. Allie Tura (Andrea), Eryn Barrett (Little Girl), Liza Russ (Little Ti Moune), David Egbert (Armand), Hilary Fenwick (Madame Armand), Larry Klueber (Daniel’s Father), Brian Hoff (Gatekeeper), Mia Bridgman (Peasant Girl) and Noah Brush (Daniel’s Son) are equally notable.
Also, D. Tristan Cupp’s exotic scenic design skillfully captures the essence of the French Antilles. Costumers Maria Klueber and Lori Watamaniuk utilize the island motif with personality, particularly the regal garments reserved for the gods. Bryan Miller’s expert lighting, Chris Pentecost’s sound design, and Adrienne Ausdenmoore and Jason Hamen’s efficient props are great assets. Musical director David Brush leads a fine six-piece orchestra adeptly handling the flavorful rhythms within the score.
If you’re looking for a theatrical getaway this weekend, make this “Island” your destination.
“Once On This Island” continues through July 20 at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 6430 Far Hills Ave., Centerville. Performances are Thursdays-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Act One: 45 minutes; Act Two: 35 minutes. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors (60 and over) and children (12 and under). Patrons are advised the show is double-cast. For tickets or more information, call (937) 433-1449 ext. 105or visit www.epiphanydayton.org