It’s one thing (and an admirable one at that) for Skypilot Theatre to have as its slogan “New Plays, Written, Developed, and Performed In Los Angeles.” It’s something even more noteworthy for the company to undertake that most difficult genre of all, the musical. After all, it’s hardly uncommon for a new musical to be “in development” for half a dozen years or more.

I don’t know where The Island is on its trajectory from inspiration to final form. There are certainly aspects of this World Premiere’s book and songs that could, as they say, “use some work.” Notwithstanding, I quite enjoyed this “musical re-imagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, flaws and all.

995894_10151799639929179_2036133115_n Book writer Jonathan Price’s re-imagining begins with a gender-bending of two of The Tempest’s major roles.

Prospero, the overthrown Duke Of Milan, is now Prospera, an exotic sorceress with a comely daughter, Miranda, the pair of them stranded on the desert island which gives this musicalized Tempest its name.

1005754_10151799649824179_2082138615_n At lights up, a plane crash has deposited Queen Alansa (note the feminization of her name too) on Prospera’s island along with Alansa’s lover Antonio, who just happens to be Prospera’s brother and her bitter enemy. Alansa’s handsome young son (and fellow crash victim) Ferdinand is on the island as well, though neither mother nor son is aware that the other has survived the crash.

998705_10151799662999179_508368620_n Completing the cast of characters are Ariel, a mischievous sprite first rescued by Prospera, then enslaved by her as a tree flower; court jester Trinculo, another passenger on the doomed plane; and puckish Caliban, whose late mother Sycorax quite conveniently left him a book about how to survive on the island.

The Island develops, over the course of its two acts, as a series of scenes between pairs of characters, leading to a couple enter-couple exit, couple enter-couple exit structure that can get more than a little repetitive.

Prospera (Lindsey Mixon) shares her scenes with Ariel (Ashley Fuller) and Alansa (Catherine Davis Cox) with Antonio (JR Esposito). Meanwhile, Miranda (Ali Perkins) has made the acquaintance of Ferdinand (Jason Kobielus) and Trinculo (Mark Ostrander) has met Caliban (Jude Evans). There’s a song to go with each of The Island’s dozen and a half scenes until, at last, the entire cast is united for the musical’s grand finale, “La-la-las Of Love.”

968810_10151799647459179_64391000_n The Island is all over the place tonewise, though director Jeanette Farr does her best to tie it all together. Prospera and Ariel are the most Shakespearean of the duos. Alansa and Antonio seem characters from a reality TV show. Miranda and Ferdinand could be the latest teen heartthrobs on a CW drama. Trinculo and Caliban’s vaudevillian shtick harks back to classic comic duos of stage and screen.

1016721_10151799659459179_1269618580_n What The Island has going for it, and what counts for a lot, are its talented cast of performers, who keep things lively throughout; an eclectic bunch of mostly quite good songs by Price and lyricist Chana Wise, a few of which I found myself humming at musical’s end; and some crackerjack vocal performances.

Prospera’s dramatic numbers “My World” and “Vindico” are terrific showcases for Mixon’s powerful, smoky vocals, and Fuller’s Ariel proves a charmer with her “Hello, Hello,” “Underneath The Sea,” and “It Was You.” Cox and Esposito vocalize quite nicely as well in “Milano” and “I Did That,” and as for Miranda, the stunningly lovely Perkins has a singing voice to match her cover girl looks, which she shows off in “Falling”. As Ferdinand, Kobielus is a much better rapper than singer, but when you’re teen-idol handsome, it’s easy to forgive less than gorgeous pipes, and Kobielus’s acting is topnotch. Evans’ song, “Guinea Squash,” is so infectiously performed that it doesn’t really require a great singer (though what the ditty has to do with the plot—or anything Shakespearean—is anyone’s guess). As for Trinculo, since it the jester is mute, Ostrander’s big number “Fools Gold” turns out to be a tiptop (tiptap?) dance showcase both for the boy-next-door AMDA grad and for choreographer Holly Childers.

The Island’s most entertaining scenes are those featuring its younger characters.

1004054_10151799653384179_338477995_n Miranda and Fernando have the kind of prickly When Harry Met Sally relationship that just tells you they’re going to fall in love once they finish bickering. (The full-of-himself Ferdinand can’t believe that Miranda has never heard of him, since his face is plastered all over the tabloids pretty much all the time.) And when Ferdinand begins rapping in “Two Chicks Walkin’,” Kobielus’s hip-hopping to the song’s catchy, silly refrain (“I like your ass, both of them”) proves irresistible.

1013552_10151799643229179_1929114341_n As for quirky, wacky Caliban and his silent scene partner Ostrander, the pair are such physical comedy whizzes (and share such great onstage chemistry) that I couldn’t help wishing that book writer Price had the two boys ending up a couple come happy ending time.

I’m less fond of the Prospera-Ariel scenes, which seem from a different show entirely, though both Mixon and Fuller are first-rate, as are Cox and Esposito, despite being saddled with unnecessarily vulgar dialog which does not come off trippingly on the tongue. (Alansa: “I have never ordered anyone to fuck me. They do it for love, or for lust.”)

Price scores his highest marks as musical director and orchestrator. Prerecorded instrumentals sound great, and he gets the vocal most out of his cast

68279_10151799658184179_412909253_n Scenic designer Tifanie McQueen has created an appropriately fanciful yet mysterious island set, expertly lit by Heidi Marie. The eclecticism of Samantha Carro’s excellent costumes reflects the script’s multiple tones, though considerably more successfully.

MacKenzie English and Susie Young are stage managers and Marie is technical director. The Island is produced by Kelly Goodman and Ryanne Laratonda.

Jonathan Price and Chana Wise’s The Island proves that you don’t have to be perfect to make for entertaining musical theater. There is a good deal of promise here, and with further tweaking, the creative duo may well find themselves with a show that intimate theaters across the country might want to add to their upcoming seasons.

T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
July 21, 2013
Photos: Heidi Marie Photography

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