“Once on This Island” revival is a gift from the gods themselves


Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Hailey Kilgore (far left) and the revival cast of Once on This Island on Broadway

How many people can say they’ve been to a beach in the middle of Manhattan?

  “Once on This Island” first appeared on Broadway in 1990 and was revived in Dec. 2017. It tells the story of a young peasant girl named Ti Moune who falls in love with a rich boy, Daniel, after she saves his life. Guided by the gods, Ti Moune goes on a journey to reunite with Daniel and find her place on an island divided into the rich and the poor. Think of it as the original fairy tale of  “The Little Mermaid” meets “Romeo and Juliet”.

   I had the privilege of watching this story unfold during the evening performance on Jan. 5.  

  The stage design allows audience members themselves to step into the story as their watching it unfold around them.

  When audience members go to see the 2017 revival of “Once on This Island”, they are welcomed by an island scene the second they walk into the Circle in the Square Theatre’s auditorium. There’s clothes lines with laundry lining the walls of the theatre, actors walking around interacting with each other and audience members in character, and even a beach (complete with sand) where one would expect the stage to be.

  Calling the stage design innovative would be an understatement. The set is nothing short of genius. Having a set this immersive allows the audience to feel like they’re in the story before the first note is even sung.

  “Once On This Island” also features an electric cast of actors who work together to bring the story to life.

  Leading the show is Hailey Kilgore, who plays Ti Moune. Kilgore is making her Broadway debut in “Once on This Island” at only 18 years old. She uses her age to her advantage. Kilgore brings youthful energy and innocence to the role of Ti Moune, so it’s easy for the audience to believe that she’s a young woman trying to find her place in a confusing and divided world. But at the same time, Kilgore comes across as a Broadway veteran even though this is her first time appearing on the Great White Way. Kilgore handles the emotional highs and lows of the show with ease, making her performance look effortless. She creates a believable character that the audience can’t help but feel for.

  Alex Newell, famous for his role in “Glee,” also makes his Broadway debut as Asaka, the Mother of the Earth. Newell’s vocal abilities are definitely the standout feature of his performance. During the show, Newell performs “Mama Will Provide”, arguably the most well-known song in the show. The energetic and soulful rendition of the song makes everyone in the audience want to get up and dance along. It’s easily a stand-out moment in the show.

  Playing the role of Papa Ge, the demon of death, is Merle Dandridge. Papa Ge is the main antagonist in the show and Dandridge portrays that with excellency. Her choices throughout the show make it clear that she’s playing a demon of death. Dandridge creates a character that’s cunning, manipulative, and, frankly, kind of terrifying, which is exactly how the character should be played. It’s clear from Dandridge’s performance that Papa Ge is not someone that you’d want to mess with.

  Overall, “Once on This Island” provides theatregoers with a unique experience that’s unlike anything on Broadway right now. Even though it’s only in the first few months of its run, the “Once on This Island” revival has the potential to be a long-running production and has the chance to be a serious contender at the 2018 Tony Awards.