Once On This Island Revival Charms And Enthralls

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Caribbean sights and sounds fill Circle In The Square Theatre

Mia Williamson, Alex Newell, Hailey Kilgore and the cast of Once On This Island (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Imagine The Little Mermaid, with some Romeo and Juliet thrown in, set on a fictitious island not unlike Haiti in the French Antilles, and you’ll begin to envision Once on This Island, a captivating new Broadway revival with a compelling ensemble cast. Written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the duo behind Ragtime, Seussical, Rocky the Musical and Anastasia, both the animated film and Broadway show, the folk tale come to life pulls you in from the very start.

Fluidly slipping from the past to the present and back again, Once on This Island follows an orphaned girl, Ti Moune, on her journey from her peasant village to the grand Hotel Beauxhomme, where the upper-class boy she loves resides.

Ti Moune prays to four gods—Erzulie, the goddess of love, Agwé, the god of water, Asaka, mother of the Earth, and Papa Ge, the demon of death—for guidance and strength, never once doubting that she is meant to marry Daniel and break down the barriers between their worlds.

Newcomer Hailey Kilgore is electric as Ti Moune, conveying an innocence of spirit, naivety at times and the stubbornness that comes along with being in love.

Alex Newell, known best for his role as the transgender student Unique Adams on Glee, nails the part of Asaka, his first Broadway role, hopefully of many to come.

Papa Ge, originally male in the 1990 production, is portrayed by Merle Dandridge, widely known for her voice role as Alyx Vance in the Half Life 2 game. Her resonant malevolence plays perfectly against Lea Salonga’s warmth and kindness as Erzulie as the gods struggle to decide Ti Moune’s fate, à la a Greek drama.

Lea Salonga is known best for originating the lead role in Miss Saigon and voicing two Disney Princesses—Princess Jasmine of Aladdin and Mulan—in the animated films.

The musical, an adaptation of the 1985 novella by Rosa Guy, My Love, My Love: Or, The Peasant Girl, features the lush and joyful sounds of the Caribbean and a strong sense of a culture that places much importance on song, dance and storytelling. Choreography, costumes and set design are top-notch, and enhanced by Circle in the Square Theatre’s thrust stage. In a truly unique setup, real sand covers the entire floor, real water flows and a real goat makes a few appearances. And when a storm rolls into the mystical island, the audience experiences it full force.

Like most fairy tales, before Disney got its hands on them, the resolution is complicated. But the ride is engrossing. With an all-star cast, the highest production value and timely subject matter, Once on This Island earns its place on The Great White Way.

See Once on This Island at The Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 West 50th St., NYC. For tickets, call Telecharge at 800-447-7400 or visit onceonthisisland.com.

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Kimberly Dijkstra is the web editor for Anton Media Group, a writer for Long Island Weekly and recipient of several Press Club of Long Island (PCLI) awards.

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