Disney’s isn’t the only recent musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” Public-domain original, adapted and transplanted to Caribbean by Trinidadian novelist Rosa Guy in 1985, became 1990 Broadway tuner “Once on This Island.” Road company is now playing Los Angeles; 90-minute show, suitable family entertainment, is a delightful and colorful blend of nonstop singing and dancing, held together by the thinnest web of a plot.
Ti Moune (Vanita Harbour), an unlettered rustic, saves aristocratic Daniel (Darius de Haas), who lies dying after a car crash and develops a crush on him.
Daniel, alas, is engaged to socialite Andrea (Monique Cintron); besides, dark-skinned Ti Moune is beneath light-skinned Daniel’s station — though Ti Moune may, Andrea informs her, dance at their wedding.
Story was inspired by author Guy’s experience in Haiti, where population claiming partial French descent maintains cultural superiority over natives; parallels, however, exist all over the earth.
Sets, costumes and actors’ accents colorfully echo the West Indies; music by New Yorkers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty generally sounds more like Broadway than Port-au-Prince.
Numbers are at least serviceable, with “The Human Heart” quite lovely and the jaunty “Mama Will Provide” this musical’s analogue to the Disney film’s showstopping “Under the Sea.”
Ensemble acts variously as individual characters, Greek chorus, elements (especially rain), flora and fauna as fable of Ti Moune is related to her young orphan namesake (Nilyne Fields) during a severe thunderstorm.
Cast (which includes Sheila Gibbs, Gerry McIntyre and Keith Tyrone from original Broadway production) is in constant motion, under director-choreographer Graciela Daniele.
Set (Loy Arcenas), costumes (Judy Dearing), and light and sound design (Allen Lee Hughes and Scott Lehrer) are all reproductions or adaptations by creators of the Broadway originals. Production values are on the stingy side (all the more so in the cavernous Wilshire) but effective.