This is a musical in a lilting Caribbean vein, with keyboards emulating steel drums tunes, also triangles, wood blocks, and vocal harmony – harking back to the Calypso sound of the 1950s.
The title, “Once on This Island” sounds like a fairy tale. And the show strives for that simple yet epic storytelling style. It’s about a black peasant girl who confidently enters a longshot romance with a wealthy boy with much lighter skin. The story’s sometimes illustrated with a puppet or masks, as well as costumes and choreography that contrast two very different ways of life. This is also a show that’s dominated by the women in the cast, especially powerfully built Kenita Miller in the leading role. Her face conveys great hope and devastating disappointment. It’s not a blockbuster show, nor does it try to be. Rather than overpower you, it draws you in with shimmering sound and imagery, and hooks you with a wise, bittersweet ending. “Once on This Island” continues through Sunday, and it’s the welcome, unexpected surprise in this year’s Music Circus season.