It was a snowy, Arctic-like ,freezing Friday when my family and I headed into New York to see the revival of Once on This Island at Circle in the Square on Broadway. But an amazing thing happened as we entered the intimate theater on 50th Street: It became summer.
The stage, at the bottom of a circle of seats no more than a dozen rows deep, has been transformed into a beach — the first row literally has their feet in the sand. The actors wandered around in bathing suits and summer clothes, wading through the pond on one side, leading a live goat past a cage full of chickens, cooking island cuisine. It was as though we had been transported to the French Antilles where the production is set.
The play is the tale of Ti Moune, a feisty orphan peasant girl who falls in love with a wealthy boy from the other side of the island. When their different worlds threaten to keep them apart, Ti Moune begs the island gods to help her be with the man who has captured her heart, and they set her on a quest to prove her love.
Ti Moune is played by Hailey Kilgore and she’s lovely, fierce, and formidable all at the same time. The gods, though, get the really impressive musical numbers. Tony award winner Lea Salonga has an angelic turn as Erzulie, Goddess of Love (that’s her in white above), and Alex Newell as Asaka, Goddess of Nature (best known as the transgender character Unique on Glee) brings the house down with his song Mama Will Provide.
My family loved the music and the story — a classic hero love quest — and I was impressed by how much history of the French Caribbean is shared as well. The set is fantastic, and in addition to the sand and the water, there are some 4-D effects that kids will love, too, including gusts of cold wind that accompany a tropical storm early in the story.
This show is best for kids ages 10 and up who can sit through a 90 minute show without getting up (due to the small theater size and short 90 minute running time, if you leave during the performance to use the restroom you may not be let back in, and because the performers often move around the aisles, everyone needs to stay seated).
Tip: The theater is very small, so there are truly no bad seats, and prices jump from $169 for the front few rows, $139 for the middle, and just $99 for the top one or two rows — I lucked out and was able to buy the second to last row center (these usually sell out first) and we had fabulous site lines; try and get these seats if they’re available. (It would also be a great option for 2-for-1 Broadway Week).
Once on This Island
Circle in the Square Theater
235 W 50th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Photo credits: All show photos courtesy of Once on This Island, credit Joan Marcus, 2017