@TheAlexNewell

Gender-Fluid 'Once On This Island' Is Dazzling, Exhilarating Joy

It would be easy to run out of superlatives that describe the gorgeous, delightful and supremely creative Broadway revival of Once On This Island, winner of the 2018 Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Musical,” running strong nearly a year after opening at New York City’s Circle in the Square Theater.

But it’s also just as easy to pick one word to describe this theatrical experience: Joy.

In a world that seems turned upside-down at times, director Michael Arden’s grounded new staging of this musical fable about a boy and girl named Daniel and Ti Moune set in the French Antilles is a testament to the belief that that which lifts us up can conquer darkness.

This is theater-in-the-round, so expect to enjoy the show as an environmental experience from the moment you enter the space.

The show begins with the citizens of this island intermittently entering the sandy beach to begin their day. Along the way, there’s trash to pick up (guess where the cast’s props come from?), greetings to make, and goats (live ones) to walk.

But then, a storm frightens a small girl and the denizens of the island take on different roles to tell the story of Ti Moune, sharing the lesson that love can “withstand the storm, and cross the earth, and survive, even in the face of death.”

 

 

The winning score by musical theater veterans Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Anatasia) is easily one of the most melodic currently on Broadway. Kudos to music supervisor Chris Fenwick for undeniably artful singing throughout the show. From lead vocals to the sung sounds of birds and frogs, this is high-end musicality.

And speaking of leads, the casting here is perfection as each actor steps forward to take their turn in the spotlight.

From Alex Newell’s “Asaka – goddess of the earth,” who brings down the house with an exuberant and effervescent “Mama Will Provide;” to Quentin Earl Darrington’s “Agwe – god of the ocean,” who sets the stage for Ti Moune and Daniel to meet with vocal power that’s truly a force of nature (“Rain”); Darlesia Cearcy’s “Erzulie, goddess of love” is delicious bringing the two young lovers together in “Human Heart;” and American Idol alum Tamyra Gray is stunning as “Papa Ge, god of death.”

Oh yes, you’ll note Newell and Gray take on their roles through gender-blind casting, which works flawlessly.

In Michael Arden’s island world, the temperamental gods are gender fluid.

The beauty here is that once the story begins, the commitment to storytelling is such that we don’t think about gender, just the tale being told – to spectacular effect.

While gods have their power, Kenita R. Miller and Boise Holmes, who play “Mama Euralie” and “Tonton Julian” respectively, bring grounding, vulnerable humanity as the couple that adopts young Ti Moune.

Their goodbye to Ti Moune as she leaves them to journey to her destiny is a heartfelt, emotional highpoint.

Other intimate moments, like the lilting “Some Girls,” sung with charming warmth by “Daniel” (Isaac Powell), allows romantic respite from larger numbers.

And then there’s the fire and grace of Hailey Kilgore, whose Broadway debut as Ti Moune was fittingly honored with a Tony Award nomination for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” and a Theatre World Award.

Her vocal range and artistry, front and center in the joyful “Waiting for Life,” is only equaled by her earthy, ebullient passion on display in “Ti Moune’s Dance.”

And speaking of dance, choreographer Camille A. Brown (Drama Desk nomination) brings a physical vocabulary that provides a visual, human heartbeat throughout the evening in moments big and small.

You may remember the sexy, richly organic staging she brought to the Emmy Award-winning Jesus Christ Superstar Live! earlier this year on NBC.

This isn’t “TV dance competition high kicks and spins.” From storyteller to storyteller, every movement throughout the evening is borne out of characters living in the moment.

I’m not the only one who’s smitten. The critics fell over themselves when the production debuted:

“A big, bold, ravishing delight! After seeing this imaginative and dynamic musical, you may feel once is not enough!”– New York Times

“Bewitching and beautiful!” – New York Daily News

“A place where magic is possible and beauty is apparent for all to see!” - The Huffington Post

“Impossible to resist!” – NY1

Once On This Island is intimate, romantic, inspiring, and uplifting.

Go see this gorgeous revival of Once On This Island at Circle in the Square on Broadway and feel your spirit refreshed.

Once On This Island is joy.

 

 

 

Before becoming a journalist, Randy Slovacek spent decades working as an actor on Broadway and in national touring companies. The opinions here do not express those of Instinct Magazine or its contributors.

Underdogs Come Up Winners At 2018 Tony Awards

And a good time was had by all.

Last night's Tony Awards held in New York City was a terrific celebration of all things Broadway with several high points for the LGBTQ community.

The Band's Visit, something of an underdog against big brand-name musicals Mean Girls, Spongebob Squarepants and Frozen, won an amazing 10 trophies including "Best Musical."

Mean Girls went home empty-handed and Spongebob only snagged a Tony for "Best Scenic Design of a Musical." The two productions were the most-nominated of the evening.

The smash hit play Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, a live follow-up to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels took home 6 Tonys including "Best Play" and "Best Direction of a Play."

The acclaimed revival of gay-centric Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes starring Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane (both winners) won the Tony for "Best Revival of a Play."

Garfield's acceptance speech for his work in the play was dedicated to the LGBTQ community: “We are all sacred and we all belong. So let’s just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked.”

Alex Newell, in spectacular, non-traditional casting as "Asaka," led the cast of Once On This Island in a performance of "We Dance/Mama Will Provide" before winning the statue for "Best Revival of a Musical."

The production was considered something of an underdog in the race with Carousel and My Fair Lady. Watch Newell throw down in life-giving style below:

Hosts Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban did a solid job with their hosting duties mainly staying out of the way (in a good way). Along the way they offered this riff on the trials and tribulations of performing 8 times a week on a Broadway schedule.

 

 

An emotional moment featured students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School performing "Seasons of Love" from RENT in honor of their drama teacher Melody Harzfeld who received this year's Theatre Education Award as well as a $10,000 donation to the school's theatre program.

 

 

Other tres gay high points:

• Nathan Lane getting emotional as he thanked his husband, Devlin Elliott.

• In presenting the Tony for a "Best Actress" category, Tituss Burgess shared that he considered all the nominees “competition.”

• All-gay cast of the current The Boys in the Band revival, Andrew Rannells, Matt Bomer, Zachary Quinto, and Jim Parsons, making an appearance during the ceremony.

And there was that little political bon mot from Robert DeNiro.

Introducing Bruce Springsteen (who was honored with a Special Tony Award )for a musical performance, the Oscar winner shared a few choice thoughts to the audience regarding Donald Trump.

CBS may have censored the statement but the packed house at Radio City Music Hall roared to a standing ovation after De Niro succinctly offered, "Fuck Trump. It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump!’ It’s just ‘Fuck Trump!’” The Australian feed didn't cut anything:

Here's a complete list of those who took home Tony Awards last night:

Best Musical: “The Band’s Visit”

Best Play: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Best Revival of a Musical: “Once on This Island”

Best Revival of a Play: “Angels in America”

Best Book of a Musical: “The Band’s Visit,” Itamar Moses

Best Original Score: “The Band’s Visit,” Music and Lyrics: David Yazbek

Best Leading Actor in a Play: Andrew Garfield, “Angels in America”

Best Leading Actress in a Play: Glenda Jackson, “Three Tall Women”

Best Leading Actor in a Musical: Tony Shalhoub, “The Band’s Visit”

Best Leading Actress in a Musical: Katrina Lenk, “The Band’s Visit”

Best Featured Actor in a Play: Nathan Lane, “Angels in America”

Best Featured Actress in a Play: Laurie Metcalf, “Three Tall Women”

Best Featured Actor in a Musical: Ari’el Stachel, “The Band’s Visit”

Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Lindsay Mendez, “Carousel”

Best Scenic Design of a Play: Christine Jones, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Best Scenic Design of a Musical: David Zinn, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Best Costume Design of a Play: Katrina Lindsay, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Best Costume Design of a Musical: Catherine Zuber, “My Fair Lady”

Best Lighting Design of a Play: Neil Austin, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Tyler Micoleau, “The Band’s Visit”

Best Direction of a Play: John Tiffany, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Best Direction of a Musical: David Cromer, “The Band’s Visit”

Best Choreography: Justin Peck, "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel"

Best Orchestrations: Jamshied Sharifi, "The Band's Visit"

Best Sound Design of a Play: Gareth Fry, "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child"

Best Sound Design of a Musical: Kal Harada, "The Band's Visit"

Recipients of Awards and Honors in Non-competitive Categories:

Special Tony Awards for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre: Chita Rivera , Andrew Lloyd Webber

Special Tony Awards: John Leguizamo Bruce Springsteen

Regional Theatre Tony Award: La MaMa E.T.C. New York City

Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award: Nick Scandalios

Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre: Sara Krulwich, Bessie Nelso,n Ernest Winzer Cleaners