Review Roundup: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND Begins its Quest on Broadway - All the Reviews!
The new Broadway production of Once On This Island, which officially opened tonight, December 3rd at the Circle in the Square Theatre (235 W. 50th street, NYC), is directed by Tony nominee Michael Arden, and choreographed by the critically-acclaimed Camille A. Brown.
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, Broadway's joyous musical celebration, is the extraordinary story of a fearless young dreamer named Ti Moune. After a massive storm rages through her village, a ray of hope appears through a young man from the wealthy side of the island. An unexpected romance blossoms. But when their different cultures threaten to keep them apart, Ti Moune-guided by the island gods-sets out on a journey to stay beside the man who has captured her heart. The exuberant score by Tony Award® winners Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Anastasia, Ragtime), along with the visionary production by Tony Award-nominated director Michael Arden (Spring Awakening revival), transforms the reality of post-storm Haiti into a fantastical world bursting with Caribbean rhythms and dance.
Lets see what the critics had to say...
Jesse Green, The New York Times: What a delight it is to enter the world of "Once on This Island"...The hallmark ingenuity, warmth and intensity bordering on excess that characterize Mr. Arden's style is recapitulated everywhere within the production, from the frankly stupendous singing (Chris Fenwick is the music supervisor) to the electric choreography of Camille A. Brown. Everyone is working on the same crammed page.
Matt Windmand, amNY: There has probably never been a production quite like the stunning new Broadway revival at Circle in the Square. Emphasizing the musical's themes of natural disaster and economic inequality, director Michael Arden brings an unexpected dose of gritty realism, while also honoring its gorgeous score of dynamic group numbers and tender ballads. Vocal fireworks and full-bodied dance choreography imbue spirituality and joyful theatricality.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Once on This Island" captures Ahrens and Flaherty at their most intimate and therefore their most effective, before they went on to such questionable projects as "Seussical" and the current "Anastasia" and what is arguably the most ponderous musical ever brought to Broadway, "Ragtime."
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: A joyful noise thunders through Circle in the Square theater, as Broadway welcomes a smashing revival of Once On This Island. Michael Arden's exuberant staging of this 1990 musical fairy tale set on a Caribbean island conjures a spell that is devastatingly timely yet affectingly timeless in its evocation of how love goes when the indifferent, capricious whims of gods and nature intervene in the deepest yearnings of the human heart.
Adam Feldman, TimeOut NY: After seeing the imaginative and dynamic Once on This Island, you may feel that once is not enough. Michael Arden's immersive revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's 1990 musical is staged in the round and constantly on the move, drumming its story forward to a steady throb of pop-Caribbean beats.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Together with his resourceful design team and cast of expressive, vocally gifted performers, Arden has approached the piece with the nurturing hand it requires - striking a balance between child-like story theater and folkloric ritual with a fantastical dash of dangerous voodoo. It's a show about the healing power of storytelling, which makes it perfect for these grim times. Themes concerning the divisions of class, race, skin-color pigmentation and wealth also give the material timeless currency.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: This is a show that works on one heart at a time (yours). In so doing, the story of the peasant girl Ti-Moune, and her audacious capacity for love, homes in on the essential simplicity of the musical art and, especially, its place in the great human trajectory of assuaging life's crises through the collective telling, and the collective hearing, of pedagogical, allegorical and soothing stories. You do not need to spend much time with the current news to know that producer Ken Davenport has judiciously timed his revival of a show featuring a fearless female protagonist self-actualizing inside a story within a story, finding herself empowered by her community and thus able to take down the walls constructed by those with privilege.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: The Caribbean music of Once On This Island is so exuberant and beautifully performed that it is only at the end you realize what a tragic tale has been told to you...Kilgore's voice is pure and resonant, Philip Boykin and Kenita R. Miller, as Ti Moune's adoptive parents, who worry for her safety, sing beautifully too, their warmth and love for Ti Moune feel as an all-encompassing musical blanket by the audience too. Salonga is the perfect 'good witch' of Love counterpart to Dandridge's malevolence. If the music is wonderful-truly, every song-and the direction brimming with life and originality
Breanne L. Heldman, Entertainment Weekly: Just as the colorful Caribbean musical (from Ragtime and Anastasia duo Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty) straddles two time periods and "two different worlds never meant to meet," the show itself does too - feeling fresh, but also a little bit retro. Once on This Island's original Broadway run lasted from 1990 to 1994 and the West End production earned an Olivier for best new musical in 1995. The new production marks its first Broadway revival, and while the music isn't dated, the new orchestrations by original orchestrator Michael Starobin and AnnMarie Milazzo certainly follow some of the trends set 25 years ago.
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Over a fast-moving 90 minutes, the score mixes captivating calypso beats and warm ballads, all brought to life vividly by the fine-tuned cast. Exuberant dancing adds bursts of excitement. Imaginative storytelling lends delights. Pieces of wood combine to become a Daniel's car. A whirled length of hose turns into a whooshing almost musical instrument. In the end, Ti Moune's journey doesn't lead to happily ever after - but to a mythical sort of transformation.
Charles Isherwood, Broadway News: Continual waves of radiance, warming the blood and stirring the heart, flow forth from the sand-covered stage of the Circle in the Square Theatre, where an absolutely incandescent revival of the musical "Once on This Island" opened on Sunday. No matter where you sit in the theater - as is often the case here, the audience intimately surrounds a central playing space - the delights of this fable-like show, with a rapturous, rhythmically bewitching score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, will hold you entranced. If you're looking for some much-needed emotional as well as literal warmth, as this grim year draws to a close, you could do no better than grab a ticket to this ebullient charmer.
Christian Lewis, Huffington Post: Overall "Once on this Island" felt more like a song cycle than a musical. Each song felt similar, with chaotic choreography (by Camille A. Brown), excessive amounts of haze, an over-stressed parallel between Ti Moune, her younger self (Mia Williamson), and the doll version of Ti Moune that her younger self carried around, a loud final note from the pit to punctuate the ending, and a dramatic light cue. After a while it felt more like a concert than a work of fiction.
Barbra Schuler, Newsday: This is an ensemble piece, and the superb cast is fun to watch cavorting across the sand-covered stage, occasionally playing instruments made of found objects. Choreographer Camille A. Brown lets them cut lose with energetic, ethnic-influenced dances, and as he leads the folk tale to its tearjerker of an ending, director Michael Arden beautifully embraces the message of "Why We Tell the Story," the show's emotional closing number.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The ungainly in-the-round stage of Broadway's Circle in the Square is put to imaginative use in director Michael Arden's inspired revival of "Once On This Island," the 1990 musical by Lynn Ahrens (book & lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music). The imaginative physical design extends to the auditorium, where colorful laundry hangs on the side walls and luxurious vegetation blooms. Everything about Dane Laffrey's immersive set design welcomes the audience to the little island in the French Antilles where this pretty but sad fable is set.
Roma Torre, NY1: Theatre-in-the-round is always a big challenge to stage, but the dazzling revival of "Once On This Island," currently ensconced in the Circle in the Square Theatre, feels right at home - and long may it live. The show that first graced Broadway in 1990 is back in a production that comes to life in a burst of creative energy courtesy director Michael Arden. His staging of the vibrant musical written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty sprawls with abandon across the entire playing space, up the aisles, and along the back walls.
Mark Shenton, The Stage: Hailey Kilgore makes an exultant Broadway debut as Ti Moune, expectant with hope, her open-faced vivacity crushed by the pain of her rejection. It's quietly devastating. Glorious, too, if under-used, is the show's biggest star name Lea Salonga, who plays the Goddess of Love with an enveloping warmth and rich vocals, while Phillip Boykin brings a warm gravitas to the role of Tim Moune's adoptive father.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus