I saw *Once On This Island* on Broadway on 8/24/18. I had no familiarity with the show, apart from knowing that it was by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, whose next show was *Ragtime.* I also had a very strong recommendation from Nate Stampley, who loved the cast album from the 1990 Broadway premiere and also loved this revival. Best of all, it won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.
What a beautiful show. It's about storytelling and learning from the stories you hear, and the stories you live. Director Michael Arden gave it an immersive production, you feel like you're on the island, with the sights (a huge pile of sand), sounds (a rooster and a goat, though only present before the show started), and the smells (the woman who became the Earth Goddess was stir-frying some chicken, onions, and green peppers about two feet in front of me - - it bothered me that she was using a metal spatula with a non-stick pan, but I tried to let it go). They created a community on the stage and that community reached into the audience. That doesn't just happen on its own.
I wasn't wild about all of the performances. The woman playing Ti Moune, the central character (Loren Lott), gave a strong, sincere, and meaningful performance, but I got a little tired of her starting a long note with a straight tone and then warming it up and letting it wiggle. That should be an effect, used sparingly, it shouldn't be a default setting.
The woman playing Asaka, the Earth Goddess (Alex Newell) was grand and gorgeous and brought the house down with her solo number, but i couldn't understand a word she said in her song. I really wondered if she was singing in a foreign language.
The woman playing the Erzulie, the Goddess of Love (Darlesia Cearcy) was wonderful, very touching. The man playing Daniel, Ti Moune's lover (Isaac Powell), had a lovely voice and communicated the dilemma of his character in a way that made sense.
There were echoes of *Rusalka* and *Daphne* in the show, that appealed to an old opera queen like me. It says a lot about this moment in America that this and *The Band's Visit* got the two musical Tonys this year. They're both shows about people reaching out to people not like them and gaining a greater understanding of themselves and each other. More of that, please!
Here's the cast performing at the Tonys: