Albums

Once on This Island – Original Broadway Cast 1990

Once on This Island – Original Broadway Cast 1990

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Synopsis

Once On This Island is a colorful musical tale of love, loss and redemption performed by a group of Caribbean peasants as they wait out a violent storm. The story they tell is of a young peasant girl who leaves her village in search of her lover, sent on a journey by the gods of her island to test the ultimate strength of her love. It is the peasants’ version of what became of her, filtered through their faith and their imaginations. The story of how Once On This Island came to Broadway is also one fortified by the faith and imagination of its young authors. In the middle of 1988, following the closing of their mostly acclaimed musical farce Lucky Stiff at Playwrights Horizons in New York City, authors Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty were searching for another project to musicalize. Since Lucky Stiff was a full-out complex musical farce with little time left for deeply felt emotional songs, they had decided for their next project they wanted to create a musical that would be keyed into human emotions and have a deeply melodic score, rather than a fast-paced clever musical comedy. The search for something suitable ended when Lynn Ahrens found the novel My Love, My Love by the Trinidadian author Rosa Guy. Here was the story she’d been seeking. It was at once beautiful, simple, compelling and musical. The rights were secured with one stipulation: Ahrens and Flaherty had to do a presentation of four songs from the show for Ms. Guy to obtain her approval for the project. After they played the songs and described their concept of what the show would be like, consent was given. From the inception of this project, the authors felt that there was only one director who would be able to realize the vision of this fable told entirely through movement and song – that first and only choice was Graciela Daniele, whose Tango Apasionado had recently electrified audiences during its Off-Broadway run. Happily they didn’t need another choice, because when Ms. Daniele heard the score played for her in Ms. Ahrens’s apartment, she agreed to do the show on the spot. Playwrights Horizons had also made a commitment to do a workshop production of the show and in the fall of 1989, with the cast and designers assembled, it commenced. Those performances for invited audiences proved essential for the creative team, giving them a clear sense of what work needed to be done on the show. For the designers it proved invaluable as well. They were able to design the show as they watched it develop in front of them, rather than from simply studying a script. In what must be a rarity in theatre circle, all were in agreement as to where the few trouble spots were. At the end of the workshop, Playwrights Horizons slated the show for a full production in the spring. During the intervening months three songs were discarded and two more were added, and on April 6, 1990, Once On This Island gave its first performance for a paying audience. The response was at first attentive and then deeply emotional. This emotional enthusiasm for the show proved contagious throughout the preview period until the show’s opening night when the critical response mirrored that of the audiences. The dreams that the authors shared with their collaborators had all come true. – Bill Rosenfield

Credits

Daniel: Jerry Dixon Erzulie, Goddess of Love: Andrea Frierson Mama Euralie: Sheila Gibbs Ti Maune: La Chanze Asaka, Mother of the Earth: Kecia Lewis-Evans Little Ti Maune: Afi McClendon Armand: Gerry McIntyre Agwe, God of Water: Milton Craig Nealy Andrea: Nikki Rene Papa Ge, Demon of Death: Eric Riley Tonton Julian: Ellis E. Williams Additional vocalists for the recording: Keith Tyrone, Fuschia Walker