By Meredith Ganzman
Some Broadway shows have celebrities. Some have singing cartoon characters. The new revival of Once On This Island at Circle In The Square Theatre has goats—real goats. And oh yeah, chickens. A lively start you might say.
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty bring their fable-like tale of Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore) back to Broadway for the first time since 1990. Ti Moune is a peasant girl who falls in love with Daniel, a boy from a wealthy family from the other side of the island. She follows her heart, with the help of the island gods Erzulie (Lea Salonga), Asaka (Alex Newell), Papa Ge (Merle Dandridge), and Agwe (Quentin Earl Darrington) to reunite and heal Daniel after an accident.
Will the two come together despite the differences in their cultures and upbringing? Well, I won’t be a spoiler and tell you the end of vibrant villagers’ story. But I will say, with winter coming, it is a joy to enter director Michael Arden’s warm, immersive tropical world (set design is by Dane Laffrey), a place that although once devastated by a huge storm, is rebuilt through the resilience and determination of its inhabitants.
Kilgore, in an exuberant Broadway debut, has a stunning voice that especially shines through in such songs as “Discovering Daniel”. Other standout performances include Alex Newell’s Asaka, who sings the musical favorite, “Mama Will Provide,” which caused the audience to erupt in cheers. And it’s lovely to see Lea Salonga back on the boards. Her grace, even in an ensemble role, is just entrancing.
Ahrens & Flaherty’s music sounds fresh and vital. And although I was shamefully unfamiliar with the work before this revival, the production left me feeling that even in the face of darkness and the cold beyond the theater doors, choosing love is the way. Audiences will surely want to see this story again and again. And thankfully, there is beautiful production to tell it.
Once on This Island is playing now at the Circle In Square Theatre.