The set for Constellation Theatre Company’s production of “Once on This Island” consists of vines crawling up a brick wall and circling an iron balcony off to stage left. Across the back and right side of the stage sit flats adorned with leafy cutouts and LED tape. Even the floor is speckled green and blue. The jungle’s prevalence clued the audience to one of the show’s key themes: nature overtaking the man-made world. It is clear that scenic designer Jessica Alexandra Cancino wants the audience to feel the Gods’ undeniable presence throughout the show. The designers had a myriad of exciting colors to choose from but the vibrant costumes by Kendra Rai never clash with the saturated lighting designed by Peter Leibold VI, nor do they distract from the actors on stage. The creative team showcased a thorough collaboration to provide a seamless color story.
Constellation Theatre Company’s production of “Once on This Island” gives Broadway a run for its money.
The casting is impeccable. Every performer has a powerful, resonant sound yet maintained balance in each number. I found myself slack-jawed during the conclusion of “We Dance” at the raw talent in the room. The joy and enthusiasm from the cast and audience alike are electric. The world they create is so joyful and enticing and tangible that I found myself lost in it. The Gods—Agwe (Theodore Sapp), Asaka (Edima Essien), Erzulie (Sydney Johnson), and Papa Ge (Carl L. Williams)—stole the show and far surpassed any expectations. To match the Gods’ otherworldly power, director Angelisa Gillyard cast otherworldly performers.
Sapp showed off his impressive riffs and velvet voice in “Rain.” Essien encapsulated Asaka’s larger-than-life personality with confidence and her remarkable and powerful voice during “Mama Will Provide.” Essien’s playful Asaka contrasted beautifully with Johnson’s touching and tender performance and tonality as Erzulie, making her a perfect love Goddess. Finally, Williams’ sublime acting and character range made him a fast, audience favorite.
The choreographer, Maurice Johnson, leaned heavily into rhythmic movement to portray the story with inspiration from a variety of sources including jazz, ballet, and African dance. My favorite moment was when the four actors gathered around Daniel (Emmanuel Elliot Key) to dance as the car in “Rain.” Using only their bodies, flashlights, and a couple of wheels, the performers created the racing car and spun off one by one until Daniel stood alone in the wreckage.
If you haven’t taken the opportunity to see “Once on This Island,” I highly recommend you do so. This is the perfect show to bring the whole family with enough color and play for the kids and teasing humor for everyone else. Constellation Theatre Company’s production of “Once on This Island” gives Broadway a run for its money.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Once on This Island” runs through November 6, 2022 at Constellation Theatre, 1835 14th Street NW, Washington D.C, 20009. For more information and tickets, click here. Guests are required to wear masks inside the theater.