Sandy Beaches, Vivid Imagery & Social Empowerment in “Once on This Island”

by K. L. Romo on April 5, 2019 in Entertainment, Theatre, Dallas/Fort Worth,

Experience warm breezes, cool sand, sapphire tides, and an epic story of love and empowerment in The Firehouse Theatre’s performance of “Once on This Island.”

A young girl sacrifices everything for love and acceptance and challenges society’s intolerance of those who are different in the Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty’s Tony Award-winning tropical retelling of The Little Mermaid, which runs through April 14 in Farmer’s Branch.

Ti Moune, a poor orphan girl, saves the handsome aristocrat Daniel Beauxhomme from death but at the price of her soul. The unlikely pair fall in love but the difference in their social classes prevents them from marrying. Although Ti Moune could save her own life by killing Daniel, her love for him is stronger than her will to live. To reward her for her sacrifice, Mother Earth has special plans for her.

The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch presents “Once on This Island” through April 14.
Photo Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography

According to Director Marilyn Setu, “we are retelling this popular fable in a new diverse and inclusive way. In today’s social climate, this story feels more relevant than ever. When there are people who support travel bans and want to build literal walls, this show is a bold challenge to tear them down.” Setu explained he has remained dedicated to “conveying Ahren’s and Flaherty’s original message about colonization, class and colorism while also speaking to current issues.”

Although various versions have been performed globally, Setu tells us there are different interpretations made by The Firehouse Theatre’s performance. “Through research we found that “Once on This Island” is set somewhere in the Caribbean.” Because the musical is based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, we chose Guy’s native Trinidad as the setting.”

“Our interpretation also provides a perspective from a female-identifying woman of color. Sacrificing oneself to effect change is rooted in Ti Moune’s storytelling. Our interpretation of how Ti Moune changes the narrative—taking control of her fate—is something that to my knowledge has never been done,” Setu continued.

In “Once on This Island,” an unlikely pair falls in love but the difference in their social classes prevents them from marrying. Photo Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography

Actress Elizabeth Coleman explains how her character, Mama, is more empowered in The Firehouse Theatre’s version. “In the past, some have portrayed Mama as a tender character. She was worrisome and emotional and looked to Papa for strength. I view Mama as being assertive, defiant, and steadfast in her convictions. Her strength and leadership give Papa and Ti Moune solace.”

The show plunges the audience into the depths of the Caribbean. Tropical breezes and warm turquoise water caress the calypso-inspired score while bonfires on the sand light up the night. And the island-flavored costumes of the cast are just as important to the storytelling as the set itself.

Costume Designer Jessica Layman explains their deliberate decision to make the costumes part of the message. “We wanted a clear differentiation between the islanders and the Grand Hommes—the peasants bright colors and mixed prints explode with energy and life, while we dress the wealthy half of the island in muted pastels and greys. When Ti Moune is in the Grand Homme world for the ball scene, it is important that her clothing conflict with theirs. Although she’s trying to fit in, she’s clearly a visitor, wearing bright cotton instead of lace.”

“Once on This Island” director Marilyn Setu says “we are retelling this popular fable in a new diverse and inclusive way. In today’s social climate, this story feels more relevant than ever.”
Photo Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography

Anthony Washington, who plays TonTon, “wants the audience to understand that TonTon is a gentle man who loves his family and places himself in harm’s way to make sure they are happy. TonTon is multifaceted with many layers like all of us, and I’m portraying him with love, compassion, empathy and sympathy.”

Setu explains that “our decisions have been thoughtfully made with the utmost care and love for the story and the people it represents. As a biracial person of color who has experienced limited opportunities in the arts, I am committed to casting biracial and under-represented minorities where there is flexibility in the script. This is key to providing more opportunities for all under-represented minorities, as there are only a limited number of culturally ethnic and diverse shows.”

So, if you’re ready to start your beach vacation early, the tropical paradise of “Once on This Island” will have you wiggling your toes in the sand as Ti Moune and the cast prove that empathy for our neighbors, respect for our individuality, and love really can conquer all.

The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch presents “Once on This Island” March 29-April 14. Th-Sa at 7:30; Su at 2:30. $14 – $28


Cover Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography

K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. @klromo