To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what it was about.
I had just moved to the city about a week before to start my sophomore year at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, after deciding to leave my pre-law dreams at Johns Hopkins behind and to pursue a career in the theater. I was still nervous as to whether I made the right decision or not. So, during that first week I was binging on every piece of theater I could get a ticket for, looking for some divine musical inspiration.
I had already seen the big Tony nominees that year . . . Will Rogers Follies, Miss Saigon, Secret Garden . . . all big, spectacular shows that I enjoyed.
But there was one left.
I had heard some great buzz about the show from the 1.5 friends I had since I arrived in the city, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the intimate Booth Theatre on that September eve in 1991.
What I got was one of the most joyous nights in the theater I have ever experienced.
It was Once on this Island.
I was still a bit afraid to take the subway in those days (it was 1991, after all!), so I walked everywhere. But I’m telling you, I practically danced all the way home from 45th to 16th Street, with those incredible Stephen Flaherty/Lynn Ahrens tunes bouncing around in my head, and a ginormous smile on my face. I was happy, and I was energized, and I felt like I could change the world.
And I remember thinking, “This is why I don’t want to go to law school. Because I want to do shows that make people feel exactly how I’m feeling right now.”
Flash forward twenty-five years (!) and after Spring Awakening was up on its feet, I turned to director Michael Arden (who had inspired me every step and ‘sign’ of the way during that production) and said, “Hey . . . what do you want to do next?”
He barely let me finish the question before he answered . . .
“Once on this Island.”
And I practically had Stephen and Lynn on the phone before he could finish getting out the title.
I couldn’t think of anyone better to direct it. See, Michael has a way of taking a treasured piece of theater, and with a few ideas that seem so simple (but are certainly not), enhances the experience for a modern audience. He’s like a giant magnifying glass to a classic painting. Through his directorial lens, you see every brush stroke and every shade of color of the original work but in greater detail than ever before. And it just explodes to life in a way you never imagined . . . but that just makes sense.
When you see a show of his you find yourself saying, “Of course that’s how to tell this story today,” while at the same time saying, “I never could have come up with that in a hundred years.”
And those are the kind of artists I want to work with.
When he explained his vision for Once on this Island to me, which is inspired by the recent storm-torn regions of Haiti, New Orleans, and the Philippines, and then to Stephen and Lynn, we put the show on the fast track. We all just wanted to see it realized . . . now. Because, unfortunately, it seems we need its timely message of acceptance and love and how to rebuild a community after a ‘storm’ more than ever.
So, today, I am thrilled to announce that Once on this Island, directed by Michael Arden, choreographed by Camille A. Brown, and with vocal design (You ain’t heard nothing like this, let me tell you) by Ann Marie Milazzo and new orchestrations by original orchestrator Michael Starobin (with some new instruments (!) you’ve never heard before – click here for more on that), and a set design by Dane Laffrey (Michael’s Spring Awakening), will begin performances on November 9th, 2017 and open on December 3rd. (Theater to be announced!)
And there are a few more exciting names on the creative team and in the cast coming soon . . . but it’s just a little too early to let that info spill . . . as much as I want to!
Speaking of cast . . . for those of you who know the show, then you’ll probably remember that the lead character of T iMoune is found in a tree (!), and taken in by foster parents who raise her as their own, and then watch as she goes on to . . . well . . . change the world.
When we were talking about casting that role, we thought . . . we need to make sure that young women all over have a chance to be discovered in the same way that Ti Moune is discovered, and in the same way that LaChanze, who originated the role to such incredible acclaim, was discovered.
That’s why we’re setting out on an international casting search for Ti Moune, going to some of the usual places, like LA and Chicago, but also going to a few unlikely places where Broadway shows don’t often audition, including New Orleans . . . and yep, Port-au-Prince Haiti.
You can read all about the casting search, including how to audition (and get a “fast pass’) and a message from LaChanze herself, here.
Single tickets for Once on this Island aren’t on sale yet, but you can be the first to find out when they do go on sale by clicking here.
However, you can reserve groups tickets of ten or more (with no payment required now) by clicking here.
And, of course, I’ll be giving out updates right here on this blog, so sign up here to make sure you don’t miss any inside scoop.
I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m excited. I just know the potential of this show and the potential of the artists involved.
And I know that after you see it, you’ll be dancing all the way home too, with that big, musical-theater inspired grin on your face, just like the one I had twenty-five years ago.
See you on the Island.
UPDATE: Tickets are now on sale for this incredible cast, including Tony Award winner, Lea Salonga. Get them here.