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The Once On This Island revival on Broadway is utterly mesmerizing. Here’s why:
The 1990 musical, with book by Lynn Ahrens and music from Stephen Flaherty, is based on the 1985 Rosa Guy novel “My Love, My Love.” It’s basically a Caribbean mashup of Romeo and Juliet and The Little Mermaid: the magical story follows Ti Moune, a young peasant girl who falls in love with a grand homme on an island in the French Antilles, where temperamental gods make their presence known.
Once On This Island plays at Circle in The Square, an arena-style theater with an intimate oval stage surrounded by stadium seating on all sides. Onstage, a sand floor with water at one edge literally grounds the musical in its island setting. Throughout the one-act production, actors walk and face every which way, so there’s not a bad spot in the house—especially seeing as seats only extend ten rows back.
We’d pay good money to see Lea Salonga in anything, and it’s a privilege to see the Broadway legend in something so good—we last saw her in 2015’s short-lived Allegiance, which we loved mostly for her. Think you don’t know who she is? Think again. Salonga, along with originating the role of Kim in Miss Saigon and taking on Les Mis power-parts Fantine and Éponine, is the voice behind iconic Disney princesses Jasmine and Mulan. In Once On This Island, the Tony-winning actress plays Erzulie, the goddess of love, who sings one of the musical’s most beloved songs, “The Human Heart.”
The small cast includes an impressive roster of Broadway newcomers. Alex Newell, whom you’ll recognize from playing transgender student Wade Adams on Glee, shines as the goddess Asaka. His big moment is “Mama Will Provide,” a showstopper of a song. Likewise, Isaac Powell makes for an (almost) endearing Daniel, Ti Moune’s high-class love interest, and moves as gracefully as you’d expect a grand homme to.
But the real discovery is Hailey Kilgore as Ti Moune. Her voice expertly alternates between powerhouse belts and tragic lilting, and she captivates audiences throughout the production.
Any show on Broadway will have a stellar cast. But the ensemble nature of Once On The Island, like Come From Away, gives everyone a chance to flex their musical muscle. Quentin Earl Darrington, previously in Cats and Ragtime, plays the powerful water god Agwe. Tony-nominated Phillip Boykin and Kenita Miller are the heartwarming couple who adopt and raise Ti Moune, and their song “Oh Ti Moune” had us reaching for the tissues. And for our performance, Merle Dandridge made one of her last appearances as Papa Ge, the god of death. She was epic, and we expect no less from Tamyra Gray, who replaced her over the weekend.
The New York Times, in its rave review, puts it best, calling the singing “frankly stupendous.”
After seeing the comedic play Meteor Shower and blissful, but not-so-musical The Band’s Visit, we were ready for a full on musical—one where we’d leave singing. Once On This Island delivered in spades. The sad story somehow leaves its audiences beaming, and humming.
Want to see Once On This Island? Tickets and more information are available here. After the show, stop by St. Cloud Social Rooftop at The Knickerbocker for post-theater drinks. Enjoy a martini—or maybe something tropical—while you order tickets to see the musical a second time!