The first production staged by the Reprise Theater Company with Jason Alexander and Susan Dietz at the helm of the troupe is generally successful, an entertaining evening with moments of undeniable power. Production of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Caribbean tuner “Once On This Island” boasts an impressive L.A. stage debut from newcomer Kristolyn Lloyd amid a largely expert cast and crew.
Lloyd plays the orphan Ti Moune who was raised by kindly Mama Euralie (Yvette Cason) and Tonton Julian (Lance Roberts). The gods decide to use her to settle a bet among themselves, whether love, represented by Erzulie (Vanita Harbour) is more powerful than death, Papa Ge (Bryan Terrell Clark). To that end Ti Moune saves Daniel (Jesse Nager) from a car wreck and nurses him back to health. The fact that she is poor and he is from a wealthy family doesn’t get in the way of their love.
Lloyd displays Ti Moune’s essentially happy and trusting nature with simplicity and charm, but is equally gifted with moments of drama, such as an affecting scene in which Ti Moune repeatedly tries in vain to gain access to see Daniel. Her vibrant, appealing voice sells the somewhat generic “Waiting For Life”; her sinuous and precise dance moves are compelling.
Cason conveys emotions through her singing particularly well; Harbour’s assured vocal highlights “The Human Heart,” while Leslie Odom Jr. gives a commanding perf of “Rain.” Clark brings an outsized personality and a powerful voice to “Promises” and “Forever Yours,” and Ledisi offers an authoritative and fun take on “Mama Will Provide.” Nicolette Robinson is terrific in a relatively small but crucial role as Andrea, but Nager is unfortunately a bit bland as Daniel.
Director Billy Porter’s staging of “The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes” as a shadow play is clever, funny and effective. Bradley Rapier’s choreography has a playful quality, working best in numbers such as “Some Say” and “Rain.” Darryl Archibald’s diverse musical direction adds hugely to the show, but Anita Yavich’s strictly white costumes could use some diversity. Driscoll Otto’s often bold lighting creates storms and the all-red approach of Death, but John H. Binkley’s bare scaffolds and amphitheater backdrop set evokes little.