The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
After several summers of giving us musicals with songs we know by heart, SummerFest delivers a show with a story that will stay in our hearts.
And some of the tunes may stay with us too.
Like Hair (SummerFest 2008) and Jesus Christ Superstar (2004), writer Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty’s Once on This Island is a distinctly contemporary musical, and it scored a 1991 Tony Award nomination for best musical (Will Rogers Follies won). A lot of people who have seen the show love it, which means it should gain some new adherents this weekend as it closes out SummerFest at the Arboretum.
In some ways, Island seems ideally suited to the Arboretum venue. It is set on a Caribbean island and its story is intertwined with nature. The gods of earth (Tamera Izlar) and the ocean (Luther Lewis III) are co-conspirators in the story of Ti Moune (Tarynn Grundy as a girl and Tai-Kristin Smedley as an adult), a peasant girl orphaned in a flood whose love and innocence eventually conquers the cruelty and vapidity of racism.
Ti Moune is convinced she was saved in the flood for a purpose, and later comes to believe that is to save Daniel (Adam Fister), a rich boy injured in a car crash during another harrowing storm. Ti Moune’s love for Daniel is at the center of a bet between Papa Ge (Jason Thompson), the demon of death, and Erzulie (Alicia Helm McCorvey), the goddess of love, as to which one is stronger.
Death, “can stop a heart from beating, but not from loving,” Erzulie tells Papa Ge in a line you should pay attention to.
The strength in Margo Buchanan’s production is several of the performances and her often telling staging.
One of the best moments is when Daniel sings Some Girls to Ti Moune. All the while, on a platform above and behind them, Andrea (Taylor Eldred), the rich girl Daniel’s been promised to since childhood, is getting ready for the dance they will all attend. It’s visually as telling as the lyric, “Some girls you marry, and some girls you love.” Pay attention to that one, too.
Fister you’ll remember as Claude in Hair. Smedley is the first performer in the show who truly fills the Arboretum when she enters singing Waiting for Life. She provides the show with a sweet star to root for. Thompson as her nemisis, Papa Ge, is also a commanding presence in a his voice, laugh and lithe movement.
As Ti Moune’s adoptive mother, Julie-Ann Aguhob builds on her head turning performance at Grand Night for Singing in June, though she was one of several performers plagued by microphone problems Thursday night.
Despite the appropriateness of the outdoor setting, the show sometimes has trouble filling the Arboretum, in some cases due to the lightness of Flaherty’s touch. Some airy, transitional moments have trouble competing with the surroundings, such as the Arboretum’s location near two hosptials (with emergency rooms).
What does work really well in that atmosphere is Island‘s format with storytellers relaying the tale in its immediacy and history of class conflict and island legend. Even if, at the back of the amphitheater, you miss some subtle moments between characters, you get the broad themes of nature and love overcoming the unnatural barriers people put between themselves.
No, not everything works in Once on This Island. But a lot does, and who doesn’t want a little island get away on a summer night?
LexArts has agreed to give Actors Guild of Lexington a $7,500 matching grant to hire an organizational consultant to help the theater navigate out of its financial troubles.
In June, the LexArts allocations committee decided not to give Actors Guild a general operating support grant from its 2009 Campaign for the Arts. The theater, which produces shows in the Downtown Arts Center on Main Street, has traditionally received funds from the campaign, which in part gives operational support to groups such as the Lexington Philharmonic and the Lexington Art League. Actors Guild’s allocation request for this year was $70,900, in line with previous requests.
In denying the request, and a subsequent appeal in July, LexArts said it was concerned about the theater’s financial management and troubles that dated back to 2005.
The matching grant came after a meeting between LexArts and Actors Guild leaders.
Granting the consultant funds, LexArts President and CEO Jim CLark said in a news release that, ”AGL now has an arts management professional leading the staff and board members focusing on financial progress as much as on AGL’s artistic and outreach mission. Working with an independent consultant, AGL can confront a difficult challenge to emerge as a stronger organization with a larger community presence.”
AGL’s managing director Kimberly Shaw said, “In the last few years, AGL has expanded its public service programs and earned regional and national attention for its rising artistic excellence. We are now on the road to having business practices of the same high professional quality. AGL’s artists, audience members, donors, trustees and staff will all greatly appreciate that LexArts intends to join us on this journey.”
In the past, LexArts has helped groups such as the Lexington Children’s Theatre and Lexington Art League hire consultants when it had concerns about their business practices. Both groups still receive allocations from the campaign.
Earlier this month, Actors Guild did receive a $15,839 Arts Partnership Grant from the Kentucky Arts Council. Council executive director Lori Meadows said the state organization’s grants are independent of local groups — it also gave LexArts a $32,598 grant — with different criteria. She said the KAC review panel did not have the same concerns LexArts had about Actors Guild.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich