There's good news and bad news about Theater II's production of "Once on this Island" in Melrose's Memorial Hall this weekend--there's not a weak moment or a weak member of the regional cast. That's the good news.
The company presents only one show each year. That's the bad news. So Melrose's drama season is over for the year after this weekend.
Anyone who saw their stunning production of "West Side Story" last year will not want to miss another annual musical--"Once on this Island." The story line is a little folk tale or legend about the gentle loving of a native of a mythical island. She loves a man gravely ill who recovers under her care, but must wed another from his own aristocratic class. What an ingrate!
The plot does inspire a bounty of entrancing dances. The swirling, twirling costumes, songs with a sort of Jamaican or Barbados flavor, in accent and declarative melodies, give a great cast a chance to sing their hearts out.
And sing they do. Each voice is attractive to the ear, varied in quality, but colorful and suited to the words and story. Cathy Nagle is the force behind the show. She keeps the action going, allowing quiet moments of story-telling and folk lore recounting, assured that she has chosen a talented cast to put it over.
Her husband, Bill Nagle, has choreographed the smashing dances--imaginative, infectious--a woman in front of me wanted to jump up and join in--and marvelously vita. These dances were among the most compelling highlights in the show.
Darcy Hutchinson brings slender, girlish gracefulness and a winning naturalness to the lead role of TiMoune, Performing a dynamic, rapid-spinning dance with great verve and abandon. Her singing voice is firm and sweet, especially strong in its lower and middle range; when she focuses and adds a bit more vibrato to her upper tones she will be a promising young stage personality.
As TiMoune as a child, Mariel Seidman-Gati is wonderfully at ease and appealing; perhaps not surprising, since she has been on stage since she was three. Two other little girls share this role on other nights--Kara Sullivan and Martina Carr Tramontozzi. (Sorry I couldn't see them all.)
As TiMoune's adoptive parents, Ellen Peterson and Bill Nagle were loyally protective and unassuming; his baritone is resonantly strong, and she can belt it out and add a supple mellowness, too.
There's a performer who is really big--physically, vocally, and in stage presence--Bill Spera, whose bio in the program details his parts all over Boston and its suburbs. His voice is powerful, perfect for musicals, and he is completely relaxed in every scene as the Demon of Death. Threatening as he may be, you can't help liking this guy.
We shouldn't neglect our heroine's lover, even though he is a cad. Erik Sachs is handsome, sings very handsomely, and manages the good guy/weak guy effectively. He also suddenly leaps into some delightfully light bit of dance. In a standout song behind him and TiMoune, Ann McCoy projects the mood of love in robust chest tones then softens to affecting head tones that are syrupy smooth.
Still another who can belt it out with high energy is Laura Gersh. As I said, not a weak link. Except perhaps the acoustics in Memorial Hall, even with sound enhancement. The acoustics make it hard to catch many lines, and lyrics, too. The music, itself, is pleasant but not notable, and a little repetitive. But the singers make the most of it. And, oh, those dances!
Musical Director Dorothy Travis and costume maker, Bonnie Raymond, merit accolades, and appreciation, as does Aaron Raymond for sound design and Patrice O'Donnell, stage manager.
The Nagles know how to put on a good show. I just wish they'd do a few more each season.
November 28, 1999
Originally published in
the Melrose Free Press on Nov. 18, 1999. Reprinted in the Melrose Mirror with permission of the Melrose Free Press.