NYC Theater Review: Once On This Island

Once on This Island, now playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre (W. 50th), is an utter delight. Your heart will swell and weep and swell again before the night’s over. The musical, set on a Caribbean island, follows Ti Moune, a young girl who’s fallen in love with someone from the other side of the island. Kept apart by class and culture, Ti Moune is guided by the gods on a remarkable journey. An amazing and diverse cast is captivating and engaging. And there’s a live goat on stage to boot.

I first heard about this revival because of Lea Salonga, who plays one of the gods. If you don’t already know who she is, I’m not going to tell you, except to say that I would see her in anything. But as amazing as she is, the whole cast of Once On This Island really blew me away. From the debut performances of Haley Kilgore playing Ti Moune (girl, those vocal cords are no joke) and Isaac Powell as her love Daniel, to Alex Newell’s blow the house down number “Mama Will Provide” and the tenor that hums in your soul from Quentin Earl Darrington, to the “Storytellers” who round out the cast.

Because of the unique design of Circle in the Square (the stage is at the center and the seats rise up away from it from all sides, hence the name), the audience is up close and personal, so you can really see how much everyone gets into it. The sweat flying during the riveting dance scenes. The drama of facial expressions. Stage pieces unexpectedly finding new purpose.

In the end, this is a tragic fable, but so beautifully and elegantly told. The arc rises and falls through the deeply moving quietude of Ti Moune’s decision to leave home to a dramatic ballroom scene rife with class and culture clashes. It is a show with so much heart and grace, riveting from the moment you enter the theater (even before the show officially starts) with a cast that shines.

I can’t say enough about Once On This Island and only hope that the show reaches as diverse an audience as it represents. And though it’s been said before and it’ll be said again, it reminds us why we need and need to support POC actors, playwrights, directors, choreographers, stage hands, the whole gamut.

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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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