Once on This Island tells the story of a divided island and how a young girl faces terrible storms, racial bias, and death.
The musical is an adaptation of a novel (My Love, My Love) adapted from Han Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. A young girl, Ti Moune, falls in love with a boy from the other side of the island. Racial and geographical issues prevent her from being with him. She prays to the Gods of the island for help. And so, she embarks on a journey across the island to find the boy.
The current Broadway revival of Once on This Island is playing in the Circle in the Square Theater, which is a theater in the round. The actors and actresses have audience members on all sides, and sometimes they move into the aisles. This makes the audience feel more involved, as there is less of a divide between the stage and the seats.
The set is covered with sand. The show featured many set changes. Even though they were surrounded by audience and sand, the cast managed to quickly transform the set from a beach littered with trash to the ocean, to the exterior of an extravagant hotel, to a ballroom, and back again. In addition to set changes, the Gods’ costumes changed during the show, slowly becoming more and more elaborate.
The music is very rhythmic, with lots of percussion which really sets the island feel. There were plenty of recurring themes to set the mood. The Gods’ music really fits their characters. The earth Goddess’ music is exuberant and extroverted. The water God’s music features rain-like percussion. The God of death’s music is discordant. The love Goddess’ music is refined and melodic.
The band is located in a loft in the corner of the theater, but the actors and actresses also play rhythm instruments in the stage area. The musical was written by Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music). The duo also wrote Ragtime, Seussical, and Anastasia.