Why We Tell the Story: A ‘Once On This Island’ (Revival) Review


Vanessa Handy

Once on This Island tells the tale of an Island known as the “Jewel of the Antilles”, that has been ravaged by a storm. Void of hope and happiness, the residents of this Island come together to tell a folk-tale of a young orphan girl named Ti Moune. This rousing story is fit into one 90 minute performance as the characters learn the values of life, and viewers are told why we must continue to tell the stories that matter most. The musical, written and composed by Tony Award-winning duo Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, has found a new home at the Circle in the Square Theatre (located on W. 50th Street in Midtown Manhattan). After being nominated for eight Tony Awards during its successful run in 1990, the show has been revived with master director Michael Arden, heading the production. I had the absolute pleasure of seeing this show during its previews, and here is what I thought about it:
With the Circle in the Square being a theatre “in-the-round”, there are really no bad seats in the house! Before the show begins, the actors are onstage. They walk around and converse with each other in character, so to set the scene of the show. The set designers did a wonderful job of turning the small theatre into a true island scene. All this withstanding, the true reason for my excitement around this show was for its cast.
The show advertises Lea Salonga as a star cast member, and for good reason too. She is one of my favorite actresses and has been the star of productions such as Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. Her character is Erzullie, the god of love. My seats allowed me to be quite literally an arms length away from her! To say I was freaking out is an understatement. Her voice is incredible beyond words, and the passion she exerts in her acting is one-of-a-kind.
Salonga is not the only star in this cast though. Former Glee star Alex Newell takes on the role of Asaka, Mother Earth. Newell is doing wonders for representation on Broadway as a Black gay man, taking over an originally female role. He is such a fun and energetic Asaka, and when he sang his solo song, the entire audience applauded for minutes.
The cast also features Broadway newcomer Haley Kilgore, in the role of Ti Moune. Her performance was stellar, and made me forget that she is only 18 years old! Ti Moune is a character that needs to be confident, as she can be broken, and Kilgore hit the nail on the head with her interpretation of the character.
At the show’s conclusion I was able to meet some of the cast members at the stage door! Each of them were incredibly personable and lovely to talk to. Overall, I would give this show better than a five star rating! The music and the storyline were so beautifully brought to life by the cast, and I cannot wait to see what the show is like when it opens on December 3rd. This is definitely a must-see for the Broadway season!
For more information about the show, visit www.onceonthisisland.com