And they tell it so well!
After the BroadwayCon Closing Ceremony I made my way back to TKTS to get tickets to a Sunday night show, this time going in knowing and getting a ticket for my top choice: Once On This Island.
This show was very different from SpongeBob, but I also loved it, so much! Like SpongeBob I didn’t know the show going in to it. I was an Ahrens and Flaherty fan already (particularly Anastasia (movie and musical) and Rocky) but I wasn’t that familiar with this show that had been their Broadway debut. It also felt like a fitting show with which to end the day after attending the “Journey to the Island” panel at BroadwayCon and meeting Lynn Ahrens at the BroadwayCon Marketplace.
Once On This Island is playing at Circle in the Sqaure. I’ve seen one other show there (Godspell in 2012) and it was cool seeing the space with a different set up. It was still in the round but the space was completely transformed. While Godspell had a circular wooden stage, Once On This Island has a longer, oval, almost rectangular, shaped stage area with sand covering the floor and a pool of water at one end. I knew it was a versatile space but it was cool actually getting to experience it. Theatre in the round also always offers such a unique experience. You can’t help but notice the other audience members and you know that each seat in the theatre offers a different viewing experience. I would love to go back and see it again from a different spot (and just to see it again in general).
I am a fan of Michael Arden’s so I was really happy to actually see a show he directed and it was such a beautiful show. The set, the staging, the music, the lighting, it was all so good! I love when the movement of the set, and in the case of this show some of the lighting, is part of the performance. The actors moved set pieces, lit candles, created all these different moments. They’re telling this story and the way they set the scenes becomes a part of that.
One of my favourite scenes was with the song “Rain” particularly the staging for “Rain.” The way they created the image of a car with the combination of individual pieces and the dramatic ending of the scene with the lighting and rain falling onto the stage. It was stunning. Each time I listen to the original cast recording I remember so many amazing moments, if I tried to write them out it would probably just end up as a description of the entire show!
Now let’s talk about this cast! The talent on that stage was amazing to witness. Hailey Kilgore was wonderful as Ti Moune (and she’s making her Broadway debut!). Isaac Powell is great as Daniel. The ensemble are all incredible. And the gods: Tamyra Grey as Papa Ge, Norm Lewis (who was actually my first Phantom) as Agwe, Alex Newell as Asaka and Lea Salonga as Erzulie. Wow! I’m so happy that I got to see Leas perform live! I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time and to even just be in the same room as her was amazing. Speaking of amazing, Alex Newell’s Asaka is incredible. I saw Alex sing “Mama Will Provide” twice that day, once at BroadwayCon and then during the show and it was outstanding both times (and there was a matinee between those too, so if he had to sing it three times that day, that is impressive!). The gods each brought such a commanding presence on the stage, even when they were just watching the scenes playing out before them (which makes sense since they are the gods) and just brought such strong performances all around.
It’s interesting going back and listening to the original cast recording, now being more familiar with the revival especially hearing the original Papa Ge and Asaka. Originally Papa Ge was played by a man (Eric Riley) whereas Tamyra Grey (and Merle Dandridge, whom Tamyra replaced due to a contractual leave) plays that character in the revival and Alex Newell (who is gender non-conforming) is playing Asaka, a part originally played by a woman (Kecia Lewis). I think that’s one of the great things about this revival, and theatre in general, the ability to switch things up and add new elements to the characters. There’s no reason why the “Demon of Death” can’t be played by a woman and the “Mother of the Earth” be played by someone who is gender non-conforming. And like I mentioned before, their performances are incredible!I cannot wait for the release of the revival cast recording later this month!!
If you get a chance I would highly recommend seeing this show and experiencing the beautiful storytelling that is brought to the stage.
You’ve also got to love a show that includes a chicken and goats in its cast!
I’m so happy that both of the shows I saw on this trip are part of the current Broadway season. It’s going to make things even more exciting come Tony time!