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The creative expressiveness is at its best this summer at CCCT’s visually warm production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. The company of 19 storytellers transports us to the French Antilles through July 21 at the El Cerrito stage. Originally a mystical, marvelous book, it has now been adapted into a one-act musical from Rosa Guy’s 1985 novel, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaher. Directed by the clever Salim Razawi who says it is a beautiful story "one of the only spectacle musicals, in my opinion, that really focuses on storytelling”. Razawi also brings a diverse cast to the CCCT also said “this cast is behind a black female protagonist, It transcends the issue of race, touches on the ideas of prejudice & discrimination, and also separates the characters based on class. It's a wonderfully complex story filled with innocence, love, and hope."

The show has a complex, colorful design, and a terrific live orchestra directed by Enrico Banson, who keeps the festive score by Flaherty, a calypso mix and a danceable celebration. The show opens with the rousing, “We Dance” and showcases the talented voices in this cast. The telling of the story of Ti Moune is delightful revealing the journey of a young peasant woman who prays to stubborn gods so she can discover her life’s purpose.

The tuneful storytellers, or “ensemble”, prove some lively performances under Razawi’s inspired direction. The telling of the story is a delight from start to finish - Mama Euralie is played by the marvelous Anita Viramontes and brings the song “One Small Girl” charm and style. The younger version of Ti Moune is played by the young child Journi Copes Harvey who bounces around the stage meeting her new found friends.

The young adult Ti Moune, is played by the impressive Tanaka Dunbar Ngwara, who gives this production its impeccable charm. She is open to exploring the world and always eager to love first her parents and then Daniel Beauxhomme, the boy she can never have. Her caring nature makes her all the more real, as Ngwara sings her solo “Waiting for Life” she is compelling. Local favorite Myles Brown is a provocative Daniel, well suited to Ngwara’s cheerful and emotional Ti Moune, and Brown’s “Some Girls” shows off his gorgeous voice. Later Ti Moune understands the traditions that deny her true love, the audience shares in her heartbreak in the warm banner song “Ti Moune”.

The dynamic Leslie Ivy is a powerful earth mother Asaka, and her “Mama Will Provide” is one of many show stoppers. The gifted Anita Viramontes as Mama and the distinguished Willie Robison as Tonton are sympathetic parents to Ti Moune. They create believable relationships on stage and are both wonderful in the song “A Part of Us”.

The ethereal characters are standouts; including Brianna Grey Rodriquez’s extraordinary Papa Ge, the death demon. The full throttle Rocky James Concepcion’s swirling God of the Sea, Agwe is ideal. Concepcion shows off his expert voice in his solo “Rain” with the other storytellers. The accomplished Michael Lao as Armand Beauxhomme, Daniel’s father, sings “The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes” with the company and proves his confident voice.

This fable is especially beautiful and through song and dance is marvelously choreographed by Amanda Boyan. With first rate lighting and sound from CCCT vets, Joe Varela and Courtney Johnson. Varela kept the sea sounds and rain storm authentic and Johnson gave that magical touch adding light to the set design to enlighten the gods. Creative props by Devon LaBelle include birds, rain, fish nets, and a rag doll for young Ti Moune. The colorful costuming, from the clever designer Emily Dwyer, is keen eye candy with the four gods: Natalie Oei as Erzulie, the Goddess of Love, wearing a rose filled headdress. Concepcion’s God of Water, includes blue face paint that mixes with his blue costume. Rodriguez as the God of Death, circles the stage ominously, complete with wild hair and shadowy dark eye circles.

The costumes complement Katie Whitcraft's enticing scenic design that includes side stages and plenty of tunnels and entrances for the storytellers. The lively band is part of the set and Banson excellent musicians keep this show a caribbean delight. Stage manager Asha Alvarez along with Opal Minor keeps the 19 storytellers on cue with their many entrances and costume changes for this one act 90 minute musical. The cast also includes Nicole Hardson-Hurley as Andrea Deveraux, and Trixie Aballa, Nick Christman, Anna Giron, Chris Hernandez, Maya Martinez, Kamaria McKinney, Alijah McKinzie, and Charlene Villareal as the most important Storytellers.

“Our lives become the stories that we weave” keeps the theme of this fairytale compelling and important. ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is also the perfect show to see with your family, and it will offer an easy perspective for both parents and children. The Storytelling and celebration is beautifully performed. This is the season closer of CCCT’s 59th season and the perfect way to roll the red carpet out for their 60th Year. Next season includes East Bay premiere of BRIGHT STAR that opens October 4th. But in the meantime join these wonderful storytellers - this show is the best way to begin your Summer.

Contra Costa Civic Theatre Presents


Written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty

Directed by Salim Razawi

Music Director Enrico Banson,

Must close July 21


951 Pomona Ave

El Cerrito 94530

Running time: 90 min with no intermission

Photos by Ben Krantz Studio

VMEDIA ARTS NICO JAOCHICO - Interviews some of the cast

The company; Journi Copes Harvey as Little Ti Moune, Tanaka Dunbar Ngwara as Ti Moune, Anita Viramontes as Mama Euralie, Will Robinson as Tonton Julian, Leslie Ivy as Asaka, Rocky James Concepcion as Agwe, Natalie Oei as Erzulie, Brianna Grey Rodriguez as Papa Ge, Myles Brown as Daniel Beauxhomme, Nicole Hardson-Hurley as Andrea Deveraux, Michael Lao as Armand Beauxhomme, and Trixie Aballa, Nick Christman, Anna Giron, Chris Hernandez, Maya Martinez, Kamaria McKinney, Alijah McKinzie, and Charlene Villareal as the Storytellers.

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