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'Island' is energizing, colorful

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, Hale Centre Theatre, West Valley City, through Nov. 24 (984-9000,, running time: 100 minutes (one intermission)

WEST VALLEY CITY — "Once on This Island" is Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's musical adaption "My Love, My Love," Rose Guy's retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid."

And it could be a real challenge for those who prefer their musicals to be more like "42nd Street."

Lyricist Ahrens and composer Flaherty, known for such Broadway hits as "Ragtime" and "Seussical," have transferred the story from Denmark to a mythical island in the French Antilles, where the fable becomes a play within a play — an energetic fusion of calypso rhythms, vibrant dancing and bold, colorful costumes and tropical scenery.

Don't be intimidated by the fact that the program contains an insert with a lengthy synopsis, as well as an explanation of four Afro-Caribbean gods who control different aspects of nature and become involved in the lives of the various characters.

Just go with the flow and you'll get caught up in the infectious music, as the exotic storytellers relate the tale of orphaned Ti Moune and her unrequited love for the handsome Daniel Beauxhommes, son of an aristocratic family.

Directed and designed by Andrew Barrus, the partially double-cast ensemble had several changes for the opening Saturday matinee, with understudies shuffled around into different roles.

The two single-cast leads, however — Josephine Scere as Ti Moune and Carleton W. Bluford as Daniel — deliver strong, captivating performances as the star-crossed lovers.

Other standouts in the large, almost entirely black cast, were Thomas Gasu as Armand, Daniel's father; MackenzieSeiler and Anthony Green as Ti Moune's adoptive parents, Mama Euralie and Ton Ton Julian; Sean J. Carter as Papa Ge, the Demon of Death; and Heather Elmer as Erzulie, the upbeat Goddess of Love.

There is little dialogue, as the story is told through the engaging lyrics, augmented by Marilyn May Montgomery and Brooke Wilson's exciting, acrobatic choreography, and Peggy Willis' tropical costuming. All of which gives the production a Cirque du Soliel flair.

Sensitivity rating: The complicated storyline may be difficult for younger children to follow, but they'll enjoy the bold, lively staging.