If you don’t like musical theater stay away from this island. It is not the show that’s going to change your mind. However, if you find yourself inclined to get swept away by stories told through a beautifully complicated but accessible score, Porchlight’s “Once On This Island” might work for you. Penned by Stephen Flherty and Lynn Aherns, the story is a retelling of the classic “The Little Mermaid” set on a Caribbean island where the color of skin, not scales and fins, creates a chasm between two lovers. Porchlight’s production is re-imagined so that the storytellers are immigrants living in an urban neighborhood, weaving the tale to calm a frightened little girl. Concepts are always tricky, and when you are dealing with work that is strong they can just get in the way. That’s what happened here. The neighborhood and its inhabitants appear rather antiseptic. I found myself wondering if I was watching the musical set on Sesame Street. Performers are expected to evoke real, hardworking people, while the movement is far from pedestrian. When the cast starts singing though, hardly any of that matters. This is what it should sound like. Powerful and exuberant, songs should lift your soul and move your feet. They do. Lead by Melanie Brezill as Ti Moune, a girl on a journey, the audience is in good hands. She is sweet and powerful and the production is better for having her as a guide. The spirit of this show and the emotional core of the music far out-sing the concept imposed upon it. For that reason go see it. Uou’ll leave wanting to dance. (William Scott)
“Once On This Island” runs through June 28 at the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, (773)327-5252, porchlighttheatre.com. $37.