Once on This Island

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Once on This Island
OneOnThisIsland.JPG
Original Broadway Production Logo
Music Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics Lynn Ahrens
Book Lynn Ahrens
Basis Rosa Guy's novel
My Love, My Love
Productions 1990 Broadway
1994 UK/European Premiere
1995 West End
2009 UK Revival

Once on This Island is a one-act musical with a book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. Based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, it is set in the French Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. The show includes elements of the Romeo and Juliet story and elements of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Little Mermaid. It concerns a peasant girl on a tropical island, who uses the power of love to bring together people of different social classes.

The original Broadway production ran from 1990 to 1991, and the West End production opened in 1994, where it won the 1995 Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

Production history[edit]

Once on This Island was originally staged at Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons, running from May 6, 1990 through May 27, 1990. The Broadway production opened on October 18, 1990 at the Booth Theatre and closed on December 1, 1991, after 469 performances and 19 previews. With direction and choreography by Graciela Daniele, the musical featured LaChanze as Ti Moune, Jerry Dixon as Daniel, Andrea Frierson as Erzulie, Sheila Gibbs as Mama Euralie, Kecia Lewis as Asaka, Gerry McIntyre as Armand, Milton Craig Nealy as Agwe, Eric Riley as Papa Ge, Ellis E. Williams as Tonton Julian and Afi McClendon as Little Ti Moune. In 2002, the original Broadway cast was reunited with special guest Lillias White to perform the show for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund.

The European premiere took place in 1994, hosted by the Birmingham Rep, and then transferred to the West End Royalty Theatre (now the Peacock Theatre) in September 1994. The production won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.[1]

The musical was revived in the UK in 2009 at Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse, and the Hackney Empire Theatre in London. Susie McKenna directed, with Sharon D. Clarke reprising her 1994 role as Asaka.[1][2][3][4] In June 2012, the Paper Mill Playhouse presented a production directed by Thomas Kail,[5] Syesha Mercado as Ti Moune[6] and Darius de Haas as Agwe.[7]

Synopsis[edit]

Clockwise from left, Asaka, Erzulie, Agwe, and Papa Ge, from the Alfred University production.

One stormy night, thunder booms, making a small girl cry in fear. To comfort her, the villagers tell her the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who falls in love with a grande homme, Daniel Beauxhomme – a story of life, pain, love, grief, faith, and hope. In this story, four gods (Asaka, Mother of the Earth; Agwé, god of Water; Erzulie, goddess of Love; and Papa Ge, Demon of Death) rule an island, the Jewel of the Antilles (Haiti), where poor peasants worship them (Prologue/"We Dance"). The peasants, "black as night", live on one side of the island, and the grandes hommes, lighter-skinned descendants of the original French planters and their slaves, live on the other. One day, Agwe unleashes a terrible storm upon the island, which in turn causes a disastrous flood, wiping out many villages. However, the gods save the life of little Ti Moune, an orphan, by placing her in a tree, above the flood's waves. She is found and subsequently adopted by the peasants Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian ("One Small Girl").

Years afterwards, Ti Moune, grown up, prays to the gods to let her know her purpose, and to let her be like the fast-driving strangers on the roads near her village - the grandes hommes ("Waiting for Life"). Hearing her plea, the gods laugh at her. However, Erzulie says to give her love, because it is stronger than any of the other elements. Papa Ge, offended, proposes a bet to prove which is stronger: love or death. Agwe arranges for the car of Daniel Beauxhomme, a young grande homme, to crash during a storm so that Ti Moune may meet Daniel and restore him to health ("And The Gods Heard Her Prayer/Rain"). Despite the objections of the other peasants, including her own parents, Ti Moune helps the intruder recover ("Pray"). Ti Moune falls in love with the stranger and, as she cares for the unconscious boy, imagines he loves her too. When Papa Ge comes to take Daniel's life, Ti Moune offers her life in exchange for Daniel's so that he will not die ("Forever Yours"). Papa Ge is angry but leaves, hinting he will return – sooner or later, as her life now belongs to him.

Tonton travels to the other side of the Island to seek Daniel's family at the Hotel Beauxhomme. When Tonton returns, he brings with him the story of Daniel's people: Four generations ago, during the Napoleonic era, a French aristocrat named Armand colonised the island. Although Armand had a wife, he had affairs with several natives, one of which bore him a son, named Beauxhomme. When Beauxhomme grew up, war broke out between the peasant locals and the French. The peasants won the war with Beauxhomme's help. Beauxhomme banishes Armand back to France, but before leaving, Armand curses Beauxhomme and his descendents saying their "black blood will keep them forever on the island, while their hearts yearn forever for France." To this day the curse causes future Beauxhommes to alienate the peasants for reminding them of their homeland. ("The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes") as well as some of Daniel's people to take the boy back. Ti Moune is tearfully separated from Daniel and tells her parents that she will go after Daniel to marry him. Ti Moune's parents reluctantly let her go ("Ti Moune"). During her travels, she encounters the goddess Asaka, who tells her not to fear, as the Earth will give her everything she needs on her journey to Daniel ("Mama Will Provide"). Ti Moune travels across the island ("Waiting For Life (Reprise)"). The storytellers then relate the story of her difficult journey to the city (including being forced to wear too-tight shoes) through the hotel gates and finding Daniel's room ("Some Say"). Daniel, still ill and unable to walk, does not remember her but believes her after she describes the scar on his chest. As they stay together, Erzulie gives them the gift of love ("Human Heart"). Daniel ignores the townspeople's gossiping ("Pray (Reprise)") over the unlikely relationship of a rich Beauxhomme and a poor peasant. Daniel delights in Ti Moune's differences from the rich girls in his life, noting that "some girls you marry, some you love" ("Some Girls").

At a ball held at the hotel, Andrea Deveraux, a daughter of Daniel's family friends, cajoles Ti Moune to dance for them (her ulterior motive being to make her look bad in front of the grande hommes). Ti Moune does dance and gains the admiration of the rich society members. Afterwards, Ti Moune learns that Daniel is engaged to be married to Andrea ("When We Are Wed"). Daniel, reminded of his responsibilities, must go through with the arranged marriage, although he insists they can be lovers forever. Ti Moune is crushed. Papa Ge reappears and reminds Ti Moune of her promise to exchange her life for Daniel's – but says she can revoke the bargain if she kills Daniel ("Promises/Forever Yours (Reprise)"). Ti Moune enters Daniel's room with a knife, but she still loves him too much to kill him - proving love is stronger than death. However, Daniel finds Ti Moune with the knife. Appalled at the attempted murder, the Beauxhommes throw her out of the hotel grounds. She waits for days to meet Daniel at the gate. As Daniel and Andrea are married, they follow an old tradition of throwing coins to the peasants outside the hotel gates - Ti Moune calles to Daniel, who places a silver coin in Ti Moune's hand and leaves. The storytellers tell how Erzulie took her by the hand and led her to the ocean, where Agwé allowed her to drown peacefully, Papa Ge received her gently and brought her back to shore, where Asaka transformed her into a tree ("A Part Of Us").

The tree becomes a celebration of life and love that cracks open the gates of the hotel, allowing those of all social statuses to become one. Her legacy brings together another peasant girl and a new young grande homme, Daniel's son, as they play in her branches. The storytellers share with them a retelling of the story how a peasant girl proved the power of love could bring together the people of the island. It helps us to remember, to forgive - and out of what we live and we believe, our lives become the stories that we weave. As the musical ends, the little girl who was frightened by the storm begins to retell the story herself ("Why We Tell The Story").

Characters[edit]

  • Ti Moune, a peasant girl
  • Daniel Beauxhomme, a grande homme; Ti Moune's love interest ("Beauxhomme" means "beautiful man").
  • Papa Ge, sly Demon of Death; the main antagonist of the show. He tricks the main character into giving her life for another. He is seen as a skeleton and is very sneaky. The people on the island fear him because of what he represents: the unknown that is death.
  • Erzulie, beautiful Goddess of Love; the foil to Papa Ge
  • Agwe, God of Water
  • Asaka, Mother of the Earth
  • Mama Euralie, Ti Moune's adoptive mother
  • Tonton Julian, Ti Moune's adoptive father
  • Andrea Deveraux, Daniel's promised wife; also "Madame Armand"
  • Armand, Daniel's stern father; also "Armand", the ancestor
  • Gatekeeper, the Hotel Beauxhomme's fierce guard (commonly played by Armand)
  • Little Ti Moune, Ti Moune as a child; also "The Little Girl"
  • Daniel's Son, Daniel's young son (commonly played by Daniel)
  • Storytellers/Gossips, various Grands Hommes and peasants (in most productions, the storytellers are shown as playing the parts of the Gods)

Note: The original cast was chosen along racial lines, with darker-skinned actors portraying the peasants, and lighter-skinned actors portraying the upper-class landowners. In the script, the writers provide small line changes that can be used to remove references to skin color to accommodate multi-ethnic productions, while preserving the storyline about differences between the upper and lower classes.[8]

Musical numbers[edit]

Note: This is the song list from the original Broadway production[9]

  • Prologue/"We Dance" - Storytellers
  • "One Small Girl" - Mama Euralie, Tonton Julian, Little Ti Moune, and Storytellers
  • "Waiting for Life" - Ti Moune and Storytellers
  • "And the Gods Heard Her Prayer" - Asaka, Agwe, Erzulie, and Papa Ge
  • "Rain" - Agwe and Storytellers
  • "Pray" - Ti Moune, Mama Euralie, Tonton Julian, Guard and Storytellers
  • "Forever Yours" - Ti Moune, Daniel and Papa Ge
  • "The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes" - Armand and Storytellers (Cut from MTI's Junior Version[10])
  • "Ti Moune"- Ti Moune, Mama Euralie, Tonton Julian
  • "Mama Will Provide" - Asaka and Storytellers
  • "Waiting for Life" (Reprise) - Ti Moune (Cut from MTI's Junior Version[10])
  • "Some Say" - Storytellers (Cut from MTI's Junior Version[10])
  • "The Human Heart" - Erzulie and Storytellers
  • "Pray" (Reprise) - Storytellers
  • "Some Girls" - Daniel (Cut from MTI's Junior Version[10])
  • "The Ball" - Andrea, Daniel, Ti Moune, and Storytellers
  • "When We Are Wed" - Andrea, Daniel and Ti Moune (Partially cut in MTI's Junior Version[10])
  • "Forever Yours" (Reprise) - Papa Ge, Ti Moune, Erzulie, and Storytellers
  • "A Part of Us" - Mama Euralie, Tonton Julian, Little Ti Moune, and Storytellers
  • "Why We Tell the Story" - Storytellers

Cut songs include "Come Down From the Tree" and "When Daniel Marries".[11][12] "Come Down From the Tree", was a song for Mama Euralie; it is included in several recordings, including its first recording on Bruce Kimmel's Lost in Boston CD, where it was sung by Lillias White - it was also included on Audra McDonald's How Glory Goes.[13]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1991 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Book of a Musical Lynn Ahrens Nominated
Best Original Score Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical LaChanze Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Graciela Daniele Nominated
Best Choreography Nominated
Best Costume Design Judy Dearing Nominated
Best Lighting Design Allen Lee Hughes Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical LaChanze Nominated
Theatre World Award Won

Original London production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1995 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Won
Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical Sharon D. Clarke Nominated
Best Director of a Musical David Toguri and Gwenda Hughes Nominated
Best Theatre Choreographer David Toguri Nominated

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Shenton, Mark. "Clarke to Star in U.K. Revival of Ahrens and Flaherty's 'Once on This Island' ", Playbill.com, January 12, 2009.
  2. ^ Once on This Island listing, nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk, 2009, retrieved January 10, 2010.
  3. ^ Once on This Island listing, birmingham-rep.co.uk, 2009, retrieved January 10, 2010
  4. ^ Bosanquet, Theo. "Review:Once on This Island at Hackney, whatsonstage.com, July 29, 2009.
  5. ^ "Goings on about Town: The Theatre", The New Yorker
  6. ^ "Theatre in Review: Once on This Island (Paper Mill Playhouse)", L&S Online America, June 11, 2012
  7. ^ "Stage Tube: Highlights from Paper Mill Playhouse's Once on this Island", broadway.com, June 11, 2012
  8. ^ Ahrens, Lynn (1991). Libretto Vocal Book, Once on This Island. Hillsdale Music. p. vii. 
  9. ^ IBDB. "Once on This Island, 1980", InternetBroadwayDatabase, accessed July 19, 2012
  10. ^ a b c d e Ahrens, Lynn (1991). Libretto Vocal Book, Once on This Island JR. Music Theatre International. 
  11. ^ "Discography, see p. 5, Lost in Boston series" ahrensandflaherty.com, accessed July 21, 2012
  12. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Playbill On-Line's Brief Encounter with Lynn Ahrens", Playbill.com, April 30, 2002
  13. ^ How Glory Goes, nonesuch.com, accessed July 21, 2012

References[edit]

External links[edit]