Once on This Island

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Once on This Island

2017 Broadway Revival Cast Recording

(Broadway Records)

March 1, 2018

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes 

The recording is completely and utterly infectious. I’m dancing in my chair as I write. Vocals are first rate—powerful, aptly accented with patois, evocative, moving.

In 1990, I saw a little show called Once on This Island at the former location of Playwrights Horizons. Based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love: or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, the Caribbean fantasy was fresh and delightful. Its authors managed to successfully walk a fine line between innocent joy and the dark realities of poverty and class prejudice. We exited, despite the heroine’s death, feeling as uplifted as we were winded.

As I recall, the tiny stage held little scenery but for a cardboard tree; costumes were evocative, but careful. Intimacy made one feel IN it. The musical played briefly on Broadway and then London’s West End. When its current revival opened last year at Circle in the Square, I was concerned.
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Articles were published indicating changes. Much charming theater has been swallowed up and/or emotionally diminished by larger scale or revised interpretation. None of this occurred. Director Michael Arden’s inspired production should be high on your bucket list. The CD may propel you.

In brief, this is the narrated story of orphan Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore), a French Antilles peasant girl who prays for love.
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The island gods—Asaka: Mother of the Earth (Alex Newell); Agwé: god of Water (Quentin Earl Darrington); Erzulie: goddess of Love (Lea Salonga); and Papa Ge: demon of Death (Merle Dandridge) arrange for her to meet “grand homme”  Daniel Beauxhomme (Isaac Powell), a rich planter’s son from the other side of the island.

When death claims the boy, Ti Moune steps in with Erzulie’s help.The girl saves his life and falls deeply in love. Grateful and captivated, he responds. For a time, all is beautiful, but the star-crossed pair epitomize their backgrounds. Ti Moune scales barriers, but cannot remove them. The gods do what they can; still, mankind has its own pigheaded  determination.

Lynn Ahrens’ book/ lyrics and Stephen Flaherty’s score are poignant, irrepressibly fun, distinctive, and effectively otherworldly. The audible show is brought to life by this skillfully produced CD. Michael Starobin’s original orchestration of the calypso-infused music is now a collaboration with John Bertles and Bash the Trash who utilize found instruments.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.