Once On This Island / our review
BEAUTIFUL captivating Unbeatable
Dec 10th, 2017
The Gods must be smiling!
Fun Fact: Once on This Island is based on the novel "My Love, My Love" by Rosa Guy which was written in 1985 and inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's 'Little Mermaid.' The story follows the life of a peasant girl who saves an aristocrat and devotes her life to him, only to be shunned due to the color of her skin.
Target Audience: This production is sensational and will melt your heart. Director Michael Arden's revival is romantic, uplifting and theatre lovers will adore the set design, music and fantastic performances. This is top of the list!
Best Bit: I can't choose one, every detail was impeccable. The costumes, the set (oh, the set!), the choreography, the performances, the music, the side story told on the large canvas with silhouettes, the thunderstorms - each aspect is truly remarkable. It is evident that Michael Arden and this company have poured passion and love into this production.
Morning After Effect: Once On This Island is an extraordinary story and I will be seeing it again!
At this time of the year, although the snow starts to fall over New York City and a bitter cold wind tunnels through the streets, it has always amazed me how the charm of Christmas lights and the sound of bells seems to warm this magical place. I suppose when the weather is brutal we turn to devices that warm us from within and often that is a good story - luckily, we have Broadway to do just that! As we stepped into the Circle in the Square and spotted the cast of happy islanders chatting on beach sand near the water's edge, surrounded by brightly colored clothes hanging on the drying lines around us, a different warmth emerged, a warmth that one only finds near the ocean. A warmth that does not simply come from the sunshine as it kisses your skin, but mostly from the spirit, sounds and soul of the people who inhabit these places.
For the sake of this story, our setting is an island in the French Antilles, magically recreated by Dane Laffrey (Set Design). When you look closely you'll notice the scattered debris and shanty structures, and how their clothes though bright are tattered and while their spirits appear strong, we will embark on a journey with these people of great suffering, loss, love and hope. Within minutes the music from Once on This Island softened the cold tense shoulders of the audience and rippled down to our feet, where a steady tap ensued throughout.
Twenty-seven years ago, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty moved audiences with their new musical Once On This Island at the Playwrights Horizon. Now enjoying a revival directed by Michael Arden, the effect seems to resonate even louder. Arden has acknowledged the increase in natural disaster over the years leaving millions in destitute situations from Haiti to Houston and more recently Florida and Puerto Rico. Arden hopes Once On This Island will remind us just how capable the human spirit is at rebuilding, the importance to help those less fortunate and bridge the gap between the haves and have nots, and perhaps most importantly to remind us that the Gods are watching. This enchanting story tells of a little girl Ti Moune whose myth and legend lives on providing hope and healing for the people left behind and for those to come.
Michael Arden has had an impressive career both on stage and TV - he is an actor, singer, composer and director. Arden's talent developed from a young age which ultimately lead to a full scholarship at the prestigious Juilliard. After two years of training he left the program to join the revival company of Big River, he has since been seen in multiple Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, along with many Regional performances and a European tour with Barbra Streisand.
Added to that is his notable career as a Director - Arden worked on A Tale of Two Cities (Broadway and Los Angeles) as the assistant director and just five years later he was brought on for the revival of Spring Awakening for which he received a Tony and Drama Desk nomination. His understanding and execution of story is remarkable, Once On This Island exhibits a tenderness, and a depth which shakes your soul. If Michael Arden was stranded on an island and all he could take was one thing... I have no doubt it would be a story. I am truly excited to see his career blossom, on Broadway and beyond.
Of course, a successful production relies on all departments to collectively deliver, and that is the case with Once On This Island. It starts with the music, the heart of this story, which resonates from each instrument, many of which were created solely for this production by John Bertles. The sounds move into the bodies of the cast which they then catapult to the audience and so the cycle continues. Circle in the Square is a perfect theatre for this production as the audience becomes a part of the community sitting around the fire and celebrating the ritual that is storytelling. A ritual engrained so deep into our very beings, it is a sacred festivity.
The choreography by Camille E. Brown is the artistry of our ancestors, the movements do not feel like dance routines but rather an expression of the body when words won't suffice. Keep your eyes on Isaac Powell, a recent graduate from UNCSA making his Broadway debut as Daniel the aristocrat. He encapsulates the airs and graces of the refined with sophistication, and then easily switches into gyrating hips and the rebellious flow of the peasants.
Clint Ramos (Costume Design) and Cookie Jordan (Hair & Makeup) have crafted superb costumes that enhance each character and reflect the environment of ruins and riches. There is an overall charade and playfulness in this production which lends itself to a certain mystery that exists between past, present and future as well as fantasy and reality. It is the magic of storytelling seen from a child's perspective that allows these designs to push the boundaries, and for magic to appear before our very eyes.
I was moved to tears by the beauty of this production, the beauty seen in every aspect. Each member of this company enhances this island community, with neither adding any more or less than the other - I could highlight each actor and rave about them all but perhaps the best way for you to find out how brilliant they are, is to get your tickets to see Once On This Island. It is an escape that will warm your heart!
View our show pages for more information about Once On This Island, Circle in the Square Theatre.