Once in this Black Box

The cast surrounds Timoune, played by Monica Blumstein. (Tom O’Dell / Photo Editor)

The strains of Disney classics such as “Strangers Like Me,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Go the Distance” drifted through the Don Evans Black Box Theatre as audience members filtered in to watch TCNJ Musical Theatre’s production of “Once On This Island” on Wednesday, Nov. 17.

The show, which played from Nov. 17-Nov. 21, weaved the tale of island peasant Timoune, played by freshman communication studies major Monica Blumstein, and her forbidden but passionate love for the wealthy Daniel, played by senior English and education major Matthew Persico.

As always, the music and voices and dancing overwhelmed the smallish Black Box, and it was nearly impossible to see action that was happening on the floor of the theatre from many of the upper rows. It took away slightly from the performance.

Beyond that, though, the production was well done. Blumstein was very good in her first TMT performance. Her earnestness and innocence conveyed Timoune’s naiveté and thirst for love and adventure, while also making the unfolding events all the harder to watch with dry eyes.

It doesn’t work out between Timoune and Daniel. Daniel’s obvious love of Timoune but forced commitment to another, wealthier woman of his class were portrayed well by Persico — the obvious tension in his body during certain scenes was a great addition to his performance. He also sang and danced beautifully.

One song highlight was “We Dance,” in which the whole cast sang such lines as “If the gods decide to send a hurricane, we dance” and “We dance while we’re fighting to survive.” The jubilatory music and dancing counteracted well with the depressing circumstances consistently referenced throughout the song. It really gave a great sense of the struggle of the peasants and set the forbidden romance of Timoune and Daniel up well.

Other showstoppers were “Mama Will Provide” sung by Asaka, played by junior health and exercise science major Gabrielle Crespo, “Rain,” where a rainstorm was synthesized by blue streamers on wire and some great lighting effects, “The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes,” a funny history of the wealthy people of the island, and “The Human Heart,” which featured great choreography between Blumstein and Persico.

Freshman mathematics and secondary education major Jim Bloss, Crespo, sophomore digital arts major Liz Gerger and freshman Graham Mazie were very entertaining as the gods of the island. Mazie especially embodied his character of Papa Ge, or death, and his haunting duet of “Promises/Forever Yours (Reprise)” with Blumstein was a highlight of the show.

The show ends on a sad, but bittersweet note. “Why We Tell the Story” was a great ender (if a little odd since Timoune dies and turns into a tree), especially when the audience is shown that even if Timoune and Daniel couldn’t work out, love will find a way, and thus their story unfolds again in others, including Daniel’s son, and this time they really are “forever yours.”

Caroline Russomanno can be reached at russoma4@tcnj.edu.