Circle in the Square, New York
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s 1990 musical Once On This Island is back on Broadway in an immersive, in-the-round production that brims with warmth and invention.
Director Michael Arden notes the significance of a story that begins with a great flood at a time when natural disasters seem ever prevalent. The people of this French Antilles in the Caribbean believe in the power of religion and the healing of storytelling, beliefs that respectfully re-created in this production.
Brought up by islanders after being washed ashore in a great storm, Ti Moune meets Daniel, an exotic white boy from the other side of the island. For a story of such joy, the tragic denouement is surprising, but the message is ultimately uplifting.
A brisk 95 minutes, the sung-through one-act musical is immediately accessible and beautifully sung. Five musicians are perched overhead, and cast members often add percussive accompaniment to the infectiously rhythmic songs.
The auditorium has been completely transformed with design elements, including many hidden tricks. The main stage is covered with sand, and there is even a bay of water at one end. Intricate lighting transforms the performance space time and again, as well as drawing the eye to key moments in the action-filled staging.
Aptly cast as a goddess, beloved musical theatre star Lea Salonga shows incredible humility by being a member of what is essentially an ensemble cast. Alex Newell (Glee) sings up a storm in well-known showstopper ‘Mama Will Provide’.
Hailey Kilgore is luminous as Ti Moune, embraced by the audience from her very first entrance. Isaac Powell is a terrific new discovery as Daniel.
A relatively simple, yet affecting and inspiring show, Once On This Island is ideal for family audiences. The creativity will particularly inspire teenaged students of Drama.