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Caribbean music spices love story on this "Island'

The musical Once on This Island is about a young woman and a young man from "two different worlds never meant to meet." But meet they do, setting in motion one of those timeless, hopeless love stories.

Ti Moune (Vanita Harbour) is from the country; Daniel (Darius de Haas) is from the city. She's poor; he's rich. Once again, innocence versus sophistication gets a workout, this time on an island very much like Haiti.

Fittingly for such a simple tale, Island is a small-scale show. It has an 11-member cast, a five-piece combo and a pair of flashlights meant to represent a Mercedes. The minimalism extends to Lynn Ahrens' story, told almost entirely in song and dance.

Stephen Flaherty's score is completely at the service of the book. Island doesn't send the audience home humming any one its songs, but it leaves a bracing aftertaste, a percussive mix of calypso, jazz and gospel.

There are enough uplifting anthems to keep things within hailing distance of good old conventional Broadway.

Harbour and de Haas are both a little too callow to make much more than a pleasantly bland impression, although his resemblance to Johnny Mathis is worth noting. Monique Cintron, as Andrea, the aristocrat who finally marries Daniel, is a stylish dancer. Alvaleta Guess has an earthy Sophie Tucker-style number in Mama Will Provide. As Little Ti Moune, LaShonda Hunt is suitably cute and flashes a big, winning smile.

Thematically, the musical presents a racial issue that is deftly handled. It involves the color and class barrier between the dark-skinned peasants and the mulatto grand hommes, descended from French colonialists. "They despise us for our blackness. It reminds them of where they're from," the chorus sings in The Sad Tale of the Beuxhommes.

Rosa Guy's 1985 novel My Love, My Love, from which Island is adapted, has a sad ending, but that would hardly do for a musical. So it was changed. The rewrite is thoroughly contrived, but the staging of the final number is so clever and colorful that even the biggest fan of Guy's novel could not seriously object.

_ JOHN FLEMING

Once on This Island

The musical with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and score by Stephen Flaherty is based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy. At Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center for six performances through Sunday.

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