1 of 2
Doug Carter, Hale Centre Theatre
Josephine Scere and Carleton Bluford in Hale Centre Theatre's production of "Once on This Island."

Before they wrote "Ragtime" (1996), "Seussical the Musical" (2000) and "My Favorite Year" (1993), lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty had their first brush with fame with "Lucky Stiff," a musical farce that premiered in 1988, and "Once on This Island," in 1990.

This week, both musicals are opening along the Wasatch Front — "Once on This Island" at Hale Centre Theatre and "Lucky Stiff" at the Draper Historic Theatre.

Ahrens and Flaherty's other works include the music and lyrics for the animated films "Anastasia" (1997) and its sequel, "Bartok the Magnificent" (1999).

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, based on Trinidad-born Rose Guy's "My Love, My Love," a Caribbean twist on Hans Christian Andersen's fable "The Little Mermaid," will play Wednesday through Nov. 24 in Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City.

HCT director Andrew Barrus and his team are bringing some Cirque du Soleil touches into the show, including acrobatics, live drumming and African, Haitian and Brazilian dancing.

Barrus, who is HCT's full-time technical director, has devised one special effect that will have one of the set's three massive bridges transform into a giant banana tree.

The action is set on an island in the French Antilles, where the story of Ti Moune, a poor village girl who falls in love with wealthy aristocrat David, is told through pop and Caribbean-influenced music.

The cast for this production is almost entirely black, with only two exceptions. The ensemble includes Josephine Scere as Ti and Carleton Bluford as Daniel.

One abstract element, similar to the visual effects in Cirque du Soleil's "Love," will have most of the cast transform their bodies into the shape of a tree that protects Ti Moune from a storm. The cast, which will remain onstage during the entire production, also transforms into birds, frogs, cars and other set pieces and props, including many inspired by the puppetry of "The Lion King."

Performances will be Mondays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 12:30 and 4 p.m., plus additional 4 p.m. matinees on Nov. 2, 9, 16, 19 and 23. The theater will be closed for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Tickets are $20-$23 for adults and $15-$16 for children (984-9000 or www.halecentretheatre.org).

LUCKY STIFF, a musical farce based on Michael Butterworth's novel, "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo," is playing Friday through Nov. 3 in the Draper Historic Theatre, 123665 S. 900 East, Draper.

Directed by Annie Fields and choreographed by Brooke Wilson, the cast includes Sandy Porter as Harry Witherspoon, a nerdy English shoe salesman who stands to inherit a small fortune, and Jann Lowder as Annabel Glick.

Harry's uncle has died, but Harry will only receive his inheritance if he agrees to take his uncle's wheelchair-bound body on a trip to Monte Carlo.

Performances will be 7:30 on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, with one Saturday matinee on Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and students, and $6 for children under 12 (572-4144).

E-mail: ivan@desnews.com