Altitude Theatre’s ‘Once on this Island’ is a beautiful, joyous, and spiritual production playing at the La Boite Theatre Company’s Roundhouse Theatre.
This one act Tony-Award winning musical with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty tells the story of a young peasant girl, Ti Moune on a Caribbean island. The show explores her journey discovering life after surviving a mammoth tropical storm and being found by a generous islander couple in addition to finding love with a boy from the French colony in town. The tale illustrates the wonderful world we can have when love brings cultures and people together despite the differences. This local version of the infamous show is so poignant and admirably adapted for an Australian audience.
Prior to the commencement of the show the Director and Choreographer of the show, Bree Langridge walks out on stage and introduces the production to the enthusiastic audience and illuminates that most of the cast are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour). She states that she is a proud Palawa woman, which is incredible to see more representation for different cultures on stage. The choice for the actors to perform in their native accents is a glorious touch and makes the story feel more real. Additionally, Garrett Lyon who plays Asaka – God of the Earth gave the Acknowledgement of Country so beautifully at the beginning of the show.
The stunning and wide-eyed Lorinda May Merrypor plays the orphan island girl Ti Moune with great presence and optimism. She brings youthful energy to the girl who wants to love and be loved in a divided world. Lorinda radiates light and hope when she bursts into the scene as she sings gorgeously ‘Waiting for Life’ at the top of the show. Her moving range of emotion throughout the piece demonstrates her love for what she does and her lust for life whilst interacting with the talented cast. Lorinda has a prosperous career ahead of her as she thrives as the leading lady of this special production.
Patrice Tipoki embodies Erzulie – God of Love with grace and care. She gives her whole being into the show particularly in the song ‘The Human Heart’ as her voice floats like an angel through the theatre as she guides Ti Moune. Patrice’s body of work has poignantly prepared her to flourish in this role as she moves through the show and bounces off the other Gods and leads Young Ti Moune to pursue her dreams.
Patrice’s real life daughter Adelaide Arkins at certain performances plays ‘Young Ti Moune’. The bond they share during the show is magical to say the least as they interact and steal glances. Adelaide is so delightful playing the young island girl and has the brightest future on the stage. She sings so sweetly, and you can see she listens with patience and dances with the other characters so joyously.
Garrett Lyon as mentioned personifies Asaka – God of the Earth and provides the true comedic relief of the show. The audience relishes in Garrett’s joy as he belts out the sassy number ‘Mama Will Provide’ with the other storytellers. He is very much in his element with the small moments becoming the bigger ones when he sees Ti Moune is in over her head but simultaneously helps her on what to watch out for on her journey. Garrett proudly displays his indigenous culture with his shirt and body art and it is beautiful to witness.
Vidya Makan dives deep into the character of Papa Ge – God of Death so magnificently. She portrays her darker side and depth of variety as an actress and performer. Vidya’s voice is so haunting and she finds the sinister side of Ti Moune and leans into it as Ti Moune opts to let the Gods take her life over the French boy she falls for. Vidya gives a villainous cackle as she belts out the song ‘Promises’ and the ‘Forever Yours (Reprise)’. Her wicked energy is infectious as she tries to entice Ti Moune to take the boy’s life. Vidya is wonderful in this local production and we cannot wait to see what she does next.
Rhys Velasquez breaths life into the God of Water – Agwe. Rhys sings harmoniously during the show and finds the beauty in the piece and Ti Moune’s story. They belt out the song ‘Rain’ with immense passion and love you really feel them get into the essence of the character and how they help Ti Moune through the storm. Rhys’ interactions with the other Gods and storytellers are glorious to watch and makes the audience feel lighter inside. They portray this being so perfectly it is like they were born to capture Agwe’s tranquility.
Conor Putland finds the innocence and sensitivity of the French boy, Daniel. Conor immerses himself into the role and really becomes smitten with Ti Moune and her naïve nature. The connection between Conor and Lorinda is realised as she saves him and tells him the Gods rescued her so she could keep him alive. The most beautiful moment is present in the song ‘Forever yours’ as Ti Moune imagines their life together and they perform so wonderfully. Additionally, Conor presents his cheeky side in the number ‘Some girls’ when he is warming up to Ti Moune in the hospital. His playful and charisma nature throughout the show makes the audience swoon.
Asabi Goodman brings wholesome spirit to the role of Mama Euralie as she finds her inner mother and cares deeply for Ti Moune with all of her being as she sings from her soul. Ton Ton Julian the father figure is played by Henry Kafoa with great poise and responsibility however he grows and learns he needs to let go of Ti Moune and let her become her own person. Andrea is brought to life by Danielle Remulta with an older and playful demeanor as she has the hard task of breaking the news to Ti Moune that Andrea and Daniel were destined to be married. Mike Zarate portrays the hard-headed and stern personality of Armand Daniel’s father as he enforces the removal of Ti Moune when she is putting Daniel’s life in jeopardy.
The storytellers in the piece of art really hold the piece together and would not be whole without them. Alvin Rostant, Winston Morrison, Tallis Tutunoa and Jade Delmiguez carry the show and assist with the small hilarious moments and particularly Peter Wood in the ‘The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes’ scene as he pretends to be one of the French men to act out the story. They all bring their own unique spirits to the production and make the songs ‘A part of us’ and ‘Why we tell the story’ so magical and leave the audience with goosebumps.
Altitude Theatre does not only dip their toes in the water, but they also dive headfirst into finding a perfect balance of community, heart, and commendable Australian talent in their version of ‘Once on this island’ at La Boite Theatre’s Roundhouse Theatre. The choreography, musicians (including Kuki Tipoki as Musical Director) and crew gives the viewer a spectacular experience. Go for the story and stay for the joy, warmth, and inspiration to be a good human when you leave the theatre.