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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Arts Alliance’s ‘Once on this Island’ brings tropical warmth to chilly Evanston

Sonya Dymova/The Daily Northwestern
Art Alliance’s production of “Once on this Island” was a showcase of love, joy, and dance.

Though an autumnal chill has fallen upon Evanston, Arts Alliance’s production of “Once on this Island” filled Shanley Pavilion with the energy and warmth of the Caribbean last weekend.

In the musical’s opening number, “We Dance,” the characters introduce us to their island in the French West Indies, characterized by its lush natural beauty. A classist and colorist hierarchy divides the island’s population into two groups: the peasants and the grand hommes. Gods who can affect the weather and meddle with humanity are in control of both groups.

Orphan and protagonist Ti Moune, played by Communication junior Morgan Barber, is especially at the will of the gods. Adopted by a peasant couple after a severe rainstorm, the gods make her choose between love and life when Daniel Beauxhomme (Communication sophomore Aiden McCoy), a wealthy grand homme, is in a nearly fatal car crash near the peasant village. She offers her soul to Papa Ge, demon of death (Communication senior Alondra Rios), to save his life.

If not for Shanley’s humble interior, the sheer talent of the cast and sharp choices by the creative team could have passed for a professional production.

In many ways, each member of the stellar ensemble shone in their own right. Especially memorable, however, were Barber and McCoy. They beautifully enlivened the ill-fated love affair between Ti Moune and Daniel Beauxhomme. Barber, who played the titular character in the Dolphin Show’s “Matilda the Musical” last winter, is always a delight to watch. Her performance as Ti Moune almost felt like an evolution of Matilda: she retained that carefree youthfulness and imbued it with a womanly grace. As Daniel Beauxhomme, McCoy displayed a booming masculinity and delicate romanticism that was chill-inducing.

The vocal prowess of the cast – many of whom are members of Northwestern’s gospel choir and Northwestern Community Ensemble – allowed for musical feats rarely seen in campus productions. At many points, the audience cheered as a cast member effortlessly sang a complicated run or high note.

In particular, Rios’ gorgeous low register magnified the malevolence of Papa Ge. And Communication junior Angelena Browne, who played Asaka, mother of the Earth, stole the show during “Mama Will Provide,” undoubtedly the most vocally challenging number in a musical full of difficult songs.

The work of the choreographers, Communication senior Emma McElwee and Weinberg senior Aniya Rios, set the visual aesthetic of the production. At times, the dance movements of the humans amplify the power of the gods, with high swaying arms replicating the winds and seas. Throughout the show, dance is an expression of joy and communal celebration. During the final number, the audience was invited to join in on the festivities. Cast members pulled people from the crowd on stage to dance along.

Though it’s too early to declare a definitive best show of the quarter, “Once on this Island” is a production that I won’t forget anytime soon.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jahariia

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