Past years have seen the WAAPA third year musical theatre students start the year with well known musical classics: Cabaret, Blood Brothers and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum.
This year, however, the opening show from our graduating class is the lesser known one-act musical Once on this Island.
Although I myself was not familiar with the piece, google reassured me that it is a high calibre show -nominated for a Tony Award and winning an Oliver Award for best new musical back in 1991. And this WAAPA production does not disappoint.
Directed by Jason Langley, Once on this Island tells the tale of a peasant girl, Ti Moune, who rescues and falls in love with a wealthy boy, Daniel, from the other side of her island. When the boy is returned to his people, the fantastical God’s of the island guide Ti Moune on a test of love, as she battles prejudice, hatred and death.
As the show begins, the performance becomes part musical, part circus as performers energetically perform aerial acts and fly across the stage from suspended ropes, walk on stilts and perform acrobatics across the stage.
Jessica Van Wyk, (Ti Moune) with her rich, powerful voice, heart felt acting and strong dancing ability beautifully portrays the struggles of her character as she fights to be accepted by the wealthy side of the island. Mikaila Briggs and Riley Scott support Van Wyk with strong performances as her parents in the production. The Four Gods, played by Julia Dray, Emily Hart, Sean Moore and David Ouch give impressive performances vocally and dramatically while at the same time managing to walk on high stilts. Little Ti Moune (Libby Asciak) magically appears from under a piece of material that has been laying on stage as the audience seats itself. She portrays a character of innocence and wide eyed wonder as the villagers tell her the tale of Ti Moune.
Costumes ranged from simple peasant ensembles to the Four Gods walking on stilts to a human tree complete with feathered head dress – (the highlight of the evening). Props, supervised by Jerome Davenport, were a delight to watch as three pieces of material draped around an actor became the French flag and two torches became a car wreck. The choreography by Bernie Bernard portrayed the primitive nature of the characters.
The set design was effective with an alter standing centre stage, the remains of a giant headed statue and six suspended ropes. The musicians were, as always, capably lead by David King.
This production is full of energy, emotion and skill and left the audience feeling thoroughly entertained. The only disappointment of the night was the fact that the Geoff Gibbs Theatre was not full with audience members enjoying the production.