Why You NEED To See The Musical Once on This Island

Originally released in 1990 by composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Once on this Island had its Broadway revival in December 2017. Last month, a national tour was announced for Fall 2019.

Once on this Island is based on Rosa Guy’s young adult novel My Love, My Love; or The Peasant Girl and contains elements of both The Little Mermaid and Romeo and Juliet. It follows a young peasant girl named Ti Moune who is on a journey to reunite with her wealthy love, Daniel. Throughout her journey, Ti Moune is followed by the gods of earth, water, love, and death.

Here are some reasons Once on this Island is the show to see this Broadway season.

1) The set is amazing. Once on This Island is staged at New York’s Circle in the Square Theatre. The Round stage makes for a very intimate experience with the audience; almost like a family. Sand and debris are dumped all around the stage to imitate an island after a storm. The back of a tractor trailer sticks out of the wall and clothes hang on a line. Before the show even starts, chickens and goats walk around the stage while a woman cooks. The audience feels like a part of the production.

2)  Hailey Kilgore shines in her Broadway debut.

At only 18 years old, Hailey Kilgore (Ti Moune) commands the stage. Leading man Isaac Powell also proves impressive in his first role out of college. Other cast members include former Glee star Alex Newell and Lea Salonga, known for her roles in Disney films as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin and Fa Mulan in Mulan. Former American Idol contestant Tamyra Gray and experienced Broadway actor Norm Lewis are recent additions to the cast.

3) The music.

The play has a mix of Calypso/Reggae and traditional Broadway, this music makes you laugh, cry, and dance; all in an hour and a half.  Almost entirely acoustic, many of the musical instruments are made of trash such as car parts and bottles. Can’t afford to see the musical? No worries! Listen to the cast album; you’ll get the full story just from the music. For the past few weeks I have been obsessed with it. My personal favorite songs include “Waiting for Life”,“Forever Yours”, and “Mama Will Provide.”

4) It covers MANY relevant themes.

An island wrecked by constant storms is reminiscent of the people of Puerto Rico rebuilding after Hurricane Maria. Social issues such as colorism - discrimination based on skin color - are also addressed. This is a very important dynamic in the play and continues to be a big problem in the African American community. Themes of tensions between the rich and the poor and spirituality are also covered.

Not only is the story line relevant, but the casting choices are bold. Originally, the gods are played by four African Americans; two men and two women. The revival casts black actresses Tamyra Gray and Merle Dandrige as the male character Papa Ge: Demon of Death, actor Alex Newell as Asaka: Mother of the Earth, and Filipino-American actress Lea Salonga as Erzulie: Goddess of Love. These casting decisions question how we view both gender and race in our society; subjects that have long been a part of our national dialogue.

Once on This Island continues its run at the Circle in the Square Theatre and will start its national tour in 2019.