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Once on This Island review at Circle in the Square, New York – ‘a thrillingly immersive revival’

The cast of Once on This island at Circle in the Square, new York. Photo: Joan Marcus The cast of Once on This island at Circle in the Square, new York. Photo: Joan Marcus

This utterly delightful burst of Caribbean sunshine could not be more welcome as winter darkness descends on Broadway.

A folk tale set to an irresistibly tuneful score, Once on This Island combines exuberantly joyful melodies with sadder, tender grace notes.

The musical follows the romantic progress of Ti Moune who, after being orphaned in a flood as a child and lovingly raised by peasant foster parents, herself nurses an aristocratic young man, who has nearly died in a car crash, back to health.

She falls in love with him; but when she follows him back to the city, she discovers that he is already spoken for. An arranged marriage awaits him and their love is not to be.

The 1990 show, infused with myth and magic, was the first Broadway outing for the now prolific composer and lyricist team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and it remains, alongside Ragtime, one of their greatest achievements.

Michael Arden’s exuberant and soulful revival is staged in-the-round at Circle in the Square. The theatre has been transformed into a beach carnival by designer Dane Laffrey. The set is like a sandy basin with the sea lapping against it.

The tremendous ensemble cast is blessed with magnificent voices and their bodies are kept in constant propulsion by choreographer Camille A Brown.

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.

 

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Verdict
A thrillingly immersive revival of Ahrens and Flaherty’s adorable Broadway musical
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