We Tell the Story: Once on this island review
FAMILY! Tonight, I saw my second Broadway show, Once on this Island. It was the singular greatest theatre experience of my life. I have been SEARCHING for every opportunity to see this show since it announced it was coming to Broadway. This show was a blessing to my soul! Honestly, truly, it is unlike any other musical experience.
I have been anxiously waiting for MONTHS to see this show and on a whim after an eight hour rehearsal, My mom, little sister, and I went to enter the lottery for the show. They called nine names before she called my sister’s BUT when she did! My God, it was glorious! I finally knew I was going to see this display of black and brown excellence and I mean that in every sense of the word, excellence.
To make a long story short, we got our tickets, and an hour later we were in the theatre. You could feel the anxious energy pulsating and the pure joy of the lottery winners I’d just been in line with. We all ended up in the same section and we lived our best lives together for ninety minutes. I have no idea if I will ever see any of them again but I will always remember this night.
I’ll remember freaking out about every detail about this show. I sat three rows back from the sand that is the stage. Then I happened to be in an area where people were making their entrances… Lea Salonga, Alex Newell, Tamyra Gray, Kenita Miller, Grasan Kingsberry, Rodrick Covington, Phillip Boykin, Darlesia Cearcy, and Hailey Kilgore all walked through at some point and I was floored. But enough about my fangirl moments, let’s get into the review.
This show means a lot to me as an African American actor and it’s everything you could ask for and more! The material is rich on its own then you add the direction of Michael Arden. Michael, you nailed it! From the tiny details many won’t see to just some moments that are genuinely funny that you let be natural. This show is brilliant! The set is just breathtaking and I love everything about. This is truly the show to watch out for in the 2018 Tonys, from scenic design, costumes, directions, best revival, best lead actor and actress, best supporting actor and actress. Those are the categories you should look out for them in.
Shout out to this ensemble of beautiful, curly haired, brown people! I love y’all for real, you put joy in this brown boy’s heart. Thank you for working hard, thank you for the blood, the sweat, the mid show swing ons and all of it. Thank you all for being beautiful. Darlesia Cearcy, Rodrick Covington, Grasan Kingsberry, Tyler Hardwick, and Loren Lott, thank you.
SHOUT OUT SWING NATION! I see y’all!
Now we come to the character breakdown which is like the best report card you’ve ever gotten because I loved this show and I’m coming back to see it again.
Phillip Boykin as Tonton Julian: At the stagedoor we praised God for an insert in the playbill. Phillip is truly one of the kindest people I’ve met in theatre. His performance reads the same way too. He struggles with Ti Moune while also managing to care for her more than himself. The balance of this performance is what is all about. In ‘Ti Moune’ the second to last song of show, he takes your heartstrings and jumps rope with them, so there’s your warning.
Kenita R. Miller as Mama Euralie: You ever see someone give such a good performance that you need to hug them? This is Kenita. She makes you laugh, cry, then repeat, for ninety minutes. The power that comes out of her is beyond humanly possibility and I know that there is some spiritual force at work because you can feel an aura of prayer over her.
T.Oliver Reid as Agwe: REPRESENT THE UNDERSTUDIES SIR! He sings ‘Rain’ with such a command and presence that you physically cannot look away. THOSE RIFFS THOUGH! He looked like before they went onstage, he watched a video of waves crashing. Agwe us pretty much a silent character after ‘Rain’ and they found someone that could be silent but powerful. Yes. Just… yes.
Tamyra Gray as Papa Ge: Sing Tamyra Sing! Tamyra was so physical it’s unbelievable. There was a moment where I promise you her entire body was shaking. The physical commitment she has for this role was one of my favorite parts. I’d also advise you watch her during throughout the show, I love this take on Papa Ge. Then that belt came all the way through and literally came for my life! My first thought was, “You better work that diaphragm!!!
Alex Newell as Asaka: Dis. Re. Spect. Ful. This entire show is disrespectful to your emotion but Alex put it down! On April 28th, 2018, Alex Newell whistle toned the end of ‘Mama will provide’ and I’m not okay. My waves were brushed back, my wig was snatched, and my voice was taken away. The Gods all as one are just indescribable. Their moments of interaction during ‘One Small Girl’ were GOLDEN. Just try to prepare yourself for hurricane Newell but Mama does indeed provide.
Lea Salonga as Erzuile: I WAS SO CLOSE TO HER. I CANNOT WITH LIFE. I promise you all I didn’t start breathing until ‘One small girl’ because there was so much greatness around me. Lea is a vet, there is no other way to put it. She’s musical theatre royalty, she’s not one Disney princess but two! And she is the embodiment of Grace and love on this island. She made eye contact and smiled at me and I’m 99.99% sure my heart stopped. Everything she does has meaning, even her little moment with Agwe (because they’re married in the mythology). And she the sweetest person you could meet at the stagedoor so she’s close to the character.
Alysha Deslorieux as Andrea: While her character does opens the gates to the saddest part of the show, Alysha is a ray of sunshine onstage. She’s engaged and telling this story at 110% and I appreciate that. I was already a fan of hers so I watched her the entire show and loved every moment. I would just like to say for the record, it’s not proper theatre etiquette to shout “YOU BETTER DANCE ALYSHA” but I was beyond close. So close that if the usher hadn’t been by me, I probably would’ve said that and more. Ugh there’s so much in her character choices specifically that I loved! From the genuine smile she gave Ti Moune or the way she just waited to speak to Daniel.
Isaac Cole Powell as Daniel: Boy you better roll your whole body! Is there a Tony for body roll of the year? I don’t know how Isaac managed to move his whole body like that, but it was crazy! His moments during ‘Forever Yours’ are everything. Isaac is legitimately dreamy, go stand at the stagedoor after the show and just watch how they scream for him. This is the first time I’ve seen someone play Daniel and I got that Daniel loved Ti Moune. I didn’t see him as the traitor that just turned his back on her and that’s what I appreciate most from this performance, that and full body rolls.
Hailey Kilgore as Ti Moune: There’s a moment when she’s being hit by Papa Ge but it’s more like the force (from Star Wars) and Hailey was committed fully. Hailey is just shines in this role and in this story. Ti Moune is a character that’ll always find joy in a situation and it’s impossible not to smile when you see her. I saw her peak around a corner, and she was just smiling, the scene wasn’t focused on her at the moment and her smile was perfect. That’s Ti Moune, she survives all of this trauma and still finds the light until she can’t anymore. And that moment when it runs out is clear to see, your heart breaks at the exact moment hers does and it’s devastating and beautiful all at once.
This show feels like home for me. The next time I’m in New York, I’m going back to the island. This show is truly the best experience I’ve had watching a show as an audience member and someone who has done it. Buy your tickets here now! And Mr. Arden just send me an audition notice, and I’m there!