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Once on This Island
Brooke Henderson as Ti Moune (front) and Maya Washington as Little Ti Moune are two of the eleven cast members of the colorful musical “Once on This Island.” The production is the first of Moonlight Amphitheatre’s 2021 season. Photo by Ken Jacques
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Moonlight’s ‘Once on This Island’ a vibrant portrait of race, class disparities

VISTA — The cast may be smaller and the production’s running time shorter than usual, but the actors, choreography and music of “Once on This Island” more than adequately fill the stage at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre.

The production is the first of the 2021 season and the first since the theater was shuttered in the summer of 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The June 16 opening night came only a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared that California is open for business-as-usual and most restrictions for gatherings are lifted.

Before the curtain went up, Steve Glaudini, producing artistic director, thanked the audience and all those responsible for the survival of Moonlight Stage Productions and announced the coming productions for both this and the 2022 season.

Making this 2021 season a reality was more complicated than just postponing the 2020 season. It was necessary to find shows that cost less to stage because of reduced audiences, so the 2020 season was shifted to 2022, and a totally new roster was created for this summer.

But that was then and this is now.

Opening night of “Island” saw the amphitheater about 70% full and 100% enthusiastic, with the enthusiasm flowing both ways.

Vivid song, dance and graphic effects immediately transport the audience to an unnamed island in the Caribbean with a history of French colonialism that created varying economic and social classes, racial disparity and a legacy of mixed-race peoples. Skin color and social standing combined with the moods of the gods determine one’s future and fate.

Ti Moune, a dark-skinned, peasant island girl, develops a forbidden love for a mixed-race, lighter-skinned, upper-class Daniel. They run in different circles, but circumstances designed by the gods bring them together. Ti Moune saves Daniel’s life and events unfold from there.

The well-seasoned cast of 11 are individually versatile and strong in both song and dance, but together, their harmonies are haunting and exquisite, and dance sequences contagious.

Even Maya Washington, who plays Little Ti Moune, belts out a few solo bars that demonstrate that she has no trouble keeping up with her older cast members.

The stage floor is nearly devoid of props – a good thing as actors need generous spaces for their well-choreographed, energetic dancing. The colorful, artistic works of various styles projected on a rear screen are highly effective in creating multiple mood and location changes.

The design team – Stephen Gifford (scenic), Jennifer Edwards (lighting), Jim Zadai (sound) and Blake McCarty (projections) – makes transitions seamless.

Music director and conductor Lyndon Pugeda creates a genuinely exuberant Caribbean atmosphere, and costumes that sometimes include sequins and feathers of blazing colors make ensemble numbers eye-popping.

Originally a one-act play, this production has a 15-minute intermission, taken at an appropriate time in the action. Though “Island” is G-rated, the themes of colonialism, relationships, racism, economic disparity and a few sexual references make this story inappropriate for younger children.

Coming shows: “Beauty and the Beast” (July 21 – Aug.7); “A Chorus Line” (Aug. 8 – Sept. 4); and “On Your Feet! The Musical — The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan” (Sept. 15 – Oct. 2). The Moonlight Youth Theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz” runs Oct. 21 – Oct. 30.

“Once on This Island” runs through July 3. Visit Moonlight Stage (www.moonlightstage.com) or call 760-724-2110.

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