"Once on This Island," on stage this weekend at Cedar Crest's Samuels Theatre is an ultimately uplifting and enchanting fable that deals with class division, the power of love and sacrifice. Directors JoAnn Wilchek Basist and Robin Gershman have their talented cast make this mythic-feeling tale colorful and festive throughout starting with the energetic opening number "We Dance." The plot - a mash-up of themes from "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Little Mermaid" - is put in motion by four Caribbean gods who are calvalier and meddlesome and who gleefully interfere in the life of the young Ti Moune's as if it is a game.
God Asaka is the mother of the earth and as played by Rogae Jean Francois is a stage-filling presence especially in the powerful "Mama Will Provide."
As Agwe, God of Water, Laura Jane Moser is more understated but gives a strong performance in "Rain" when she creates a flood.
Cynthia Iloegbunam conveys a gentleness as Erzulie, God of Love and adds a warmth to "The Human Heart."
But stealing the scene every time he is on stage is Brian Foley as Papa Ge, God of Death. Foley is unrecognizable in elaborate and terrifying face paint and despite wearing a boot cast, he gives the character of death a jaunty air and infuses him with just the right touch of creepiness and sardonic amusement. He is great on his songs particularly "Forever Yours." Foley also is music director.
The story starts as the young Ti Moune played charmingly by Ashley Rehrig, is saved by the gods during a flood and placed in a tree where an older couple - Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian - find her and take her home to raise her. Played by Florence Taylor and Ted Williams, their "One Small Girl" is delightful and later their "Ti Moine" conveys their parental support.
As Ti Moune, Reinys Beriguete Flores has an almost ethereal quality as she dances and twirls about the stage. She exudes the character's pure innocence. And she conveys a gentle determination, when she feels it is her destiny to save a young man hurt in a car accident when the rest of the village backs away because he is from a different social class.
Her songs such as "Waiting for Life" and "Discovering Daniel" are sweet and soaring. As the rescued young man Daniel, Christopher Ryland displays a shallow charm that ultimately descends into callousness. The double meaning in his song "Some Girls" only becomes clear as the story progresses. As Daniel's betrothed Andrea played by Giselle Tavarez is coldly self-assured and has a scathing moment when she leaves the stage for the final time. She makes a lot of a smaller role. Young Ashley Rehrig also has a brief but memorable solo in the finale "Why We Tell the Story."
The striking set by Roxanne Amico, uses large cut out silhouettes of fruit laden trees to set the stage, which effectively create a Caribbean island feel. The atmosphere is aided by the colorful costumes by Brian Strachan, that really evoke a feel of the islands with full skirts that billow when the actors dance and wildly patterned shirts.
The ensemble acts as both villagers and a Greek chorus moving the plot forward and providing the back story as well as adding movement and color. The ending is both tragic and hopeful as Ti Moune's sacrifice creates a more harmonious world.
"Once On This Island" 1 and 7 p.m. Feb 25 and 2 p.m. Feb. 26, Samuels Theatre, Tompkins College Center, Cedar Crest College, 100 College Drive, Allentown. Tickets: $25; $20, seniors and $10 students. Info: 610-606-4608.
Cedar Crest College - Stage