Sunday, January 28, 2018

Broadway Review: Once On This Island

Alex Newell, Lea Salonga and Merle Dandridge. Photo: Joan Marcus
Once On This Island
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, based on the novel “My Love, My Love” by Rosa Guy
Directed by Michael Arden
Choreographed by Camille A. Brown
Circle in the Square Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
Following the success of Anastasia, creators Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are enjoying the first Broadway revival of their previous collaboration,  Once On This Island.

This show, which had a short Broadway run beginning in 1990, has been a mainstay ever since as the season production for high schools and colleges, but I had never seen a profesional staging before this revival featuring stars Norm Lewis and Lea Solonga. The story, with a book by lyrics writer Ahrens, based on the novel “My Love, My Love” by Rosa Guy, is kind of a bummer and doesn't have the fairytale feel we think it will. (Don't worry, I won't give spoilers).

Circle in the Square Theatre is the perfect setting for this show, intimately directed by Michael Arden. Designer Dane Laffrey creates an island setting, complete with sand, water to splash through and a quick-change to an indoor setting. Costumes designed by Clint Ramos complete the picture of Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore), a young peasant girl who falls in love with Daniel (Isaac Powell), a wealthy man from the other side of the island.

TiMoune leaves her loving, adoptive parents (Kenita R. Miller and Phillip Boykin) to find her love, Daniel, and nurse him back to health after he is injured in an accident. The two are happy together for a while, until Daniel reveals that he is promised to Andrea (Loren Lott).

Island gods figure in the storytelling and help or hinder the characters as they progress through life. The gods are:
  • Papa Ge - Papa Ge (Merle Dandridge -- I saw Tamra Gray), a demon of death
  • Erzulie (Salonga), a goddess of love
  • Agwe (Lewis), a god of water
  • Asaka (Alex Newell), mother of the earth
The 90-minute production is brisk and has new orchestrations by original orchestrator Michael Starobin who is joined by AnnMarie Milazzo.

Once on This Island gathers for storytelling at Circle in the Square THeatre,  235 West 50th St., NYC.  Performance times vary. Tickets are $89.50-$189.50:

Additional cast:
Darlesia Cearcy, Rodrick Covington, Emerson Davis, Alysha Deslorieux, Tyler Hardwick, Cassondra James, David Jennings, Grasan Kingsberry, Loren Lott, Isaac Powell, T. Oliver Reid, Aurelia Williams and Mia Mei Williamson.

Additional credits:
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Lighting Designers), Peter Hylenski (Sound Designer), John Bertles/Bash The Trash (Unusual Instruments), Cookie Jordan (Hair/Wig and Makeup Designer), Chris Fenwick (Music Supervisor), Alvin Hough, Jr. is the music director.

-- Theater warms might not be suitable for children under 10 years of age.
-- Gods

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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