Once on This Island | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Once on This Island 

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If ever a handsome new facility cried out for a colorful consecration, it's the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, a $22 million, 311-seat theater in downtown Arlington Heights boasting a proscenium thrust stage and state-of-the-art technical wizardry. And it gets one in this tropical folk opera, based on Trinidadian Rosa Guy's novel. Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens's bubbling musical tells the tale of a star-crossed, one-sided love between a dark-skinned peasant girl and a coffee-colored aristocrat. Peter Amster's Apple Tree Theatre staging, a hit in 1999, remains an infectious delight, its unstoppable songs warmly coached by music director Tom Murray. Blending calypso, waltzes, and African tribal dance, Randy Duncan's torrid choreography stirs up a tempest. Karla Latrice Beard--the best excuse for this second coming--repeats her terrific Ti Moune, the hopeful island girl who gets a rotten deal; her ardent "Waiting for Life" throbs with the foolish trust the young place in life. Felicia P. Fields as earth mother Asaka brings down the coconut palms with "Mama Will Provide," accompanied by anthropomorphic birds, frogs, and breezes. New to the role of Daniel, the unworthy recipient of Ti Moune's love, Kehinde Hart is more tentative and less ardent than Anthony Pierre Christopher (who was also--and this is not irrelevant--lighter skinned). The production's chief problem is the theater itself: the sight lines are bad, obscuring much of the downstage action. Either the stage should be elevated or the action pulled back. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 Campbell, Arlington Heights, 847-577-2121. Through May 28: Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 8:30 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $32.

--Lawrence Bommer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.

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