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"Once On This Island" Is Revived at Circle in the Square
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"Once On This Island" Is Revived at Circle in the Square

- Backstage with the Playwrights
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Circle in the Square
Paul Libin, President & Producing Director
Theodore Mann, Founder & Artistic Director
Susan Frankel, General Manager
Ken Davenport, Hunter Arnold
et al.

Once On This Island
(Once On This Island Website)

Book & Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty

Directed by Michael Arden
Choreographed by Camille A. Brown
Music Supervisor: Chris Fenwick

Circle in the Square
50th Street, at 1633 Broadway

Merle Dandridge, Quentin Earl Darrington
Alex Newell, Lea Salonga
Hailey Kilgore

And an ensemble of Actors/Singers/Dancers

Scenic Designer: Dane Laffrey
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer
Sound Designer: Peter Hylenski
Orchestrations: Annemarie Milazzo and Michael Starobin
Original Vocal Arrangements: Stephen Flaherty
Hair, Wig, Make-Up Design: Cookie Jordan
“Found” Instrumental Design: John Bertles & Bash the Trash
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Advertising and Marketing: AKA NYC
General Management: DTE Management, Ryan Conway
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions, Inc.
Casting: Telsey + Company, Craig Burns, CSA
Music Director: Alvin Hough, Jr.
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Company Manager: Margaret Scoglund
Production Stage Manager: Justin Scribner

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 2, 2017 Matinee

Circle in the Square, Ken Davenport, and Hunter Arnold have brought Broadway’s first revival of the Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty 1990 musical, Once On This Island, to Circle in the Square, and what a show this is. This renowned theater in the round is set with an upside down rowboat on a pond of still water, a collage of found trash that’s used for trees, vines, and even part of costumes, reminding this former early childhood teacher of a homemade classroom play. But, of course, Michael Arden, Director, has created a highly professional musical, with magic, romance, calypso, gorgeous vocals, fantastical dance, and wandering livestock as vibrant enhancements to this sensational, one-act show. The musical, adapted from the fictional publication by Rosa Guy, of Trinidad, opens on an island, “Jewel of the Antilles”, after a massive hurricane. A little girl (both Emerson Davis and Mia Williamson listed) cries of fear, and the villagers entertain her with a tale about Ti Moune, a girl from an island that’s divided into two communities, one for dark-skinned peasants and one for mixed-race Beauxhommes, who have massive wealth. As the story unfolds, it evokes thematic threads of Cinderella and The Wizard of Oz. Ti Moune (the Little Girl) is the adopted daughter of an elderly couple, who find her abandoned on a tree after a storm. She grows (Hailey Kilgore) to fall in love with Daniel Beauxhomme (Isaac Powell), who lives in a gated mansion on the other side of the island. The adoptive parents are Mama Euralie (Kenita R. Miller) and Tonton Julian (Philip Boykin), in lovingly warm personas, patient and protective.

Four gods on this island are featured in primal costumes and glorious songs: Asaka, Mother of the Earth (Alex Newell), Erzulie, Goddess of Love (Lea Salonga), Agwé, God of Water (Quentin Earl Darrington), and Papa Ge, Demon of Death (Merle Dandridge). Asaka’s “Mama Will Provide”, Erzulie’s “The Human Heart”, Agwé’s “Rain”, and Papa Ge’s “Forever Yours”, sung with Ti Moune, Daniel, and Storyteller backup (ensemble), brought down the house. The intertwining storyline, a bit vague at times, involves a bet for Daniel and Ti Moune to marry for love or for death to intervene. Daniel almost dies in a serious car crash, but Ti Moune painstakingly nurses Daniel back to health. Their tale does not end as Cinderella’s did, as Daniel’s aristocratic family exerts power, and a new woman, Andrea (Alysha Deslorieux), appears, as Ti Moune dances up a storm of her own. Further plot twists should be left for surprise. Adding content to this scene, a big production number, “The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes”, had taught the audience the history of a curse on the family Beauxhomme, being relegated to live on the island, rather than returning to France after a successful battle, several generations ago.

The five-member band, on keyboard, melodica, percussion, bass, guitar, mandolin, and flute, led by Alvin Hough, Jr., is spectacular, infusing a tropical motif to this serendipitous production. The ensemble, as well, performs hand and found-object percussion in big numbers. The finale, “Why We Tell the Story”, added a sense of social conscience to the pre-Holiday matinee. Camille A. Brown’s choreography is infused with Caribbean gestures and rhythmic motion, painting this show with a broad brush of uplifting hopefulness for societal inclusion and empathy. There’s a much needed message in this Ahrens/Flaherty/Arden work at Circle in the Square. Among the cast, Hailey Kilgore, in her ruffled red dress, Lea Salonga, in her white gown and crown, and Merle Dandridge, in her winged, demonic attire, seized the stage throughout today’s matinee, with vocal talent beyond expectation. Clint Ramos’ costume design is highly clever and culturally embellished. Dane Laffrey’s scenery was on view long before the show began, drawing the audience in, as the cast meandered in, quietly interacting. The design team of Fisher-Eisenhauer, lighting, and Peter Hylenski, sound, gave the production warmth and clarity. The Milazzo-Starobin orchestrations had the audience bouncing in the round. Kudos to Michael Arden, Director, and kudos to all.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at