Authenticity is the going currency in theatre today, and for good reason. Tony-nominated director Michael Arden, whose groundbreaking production of Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening last fall marked milestones of inclusivity on Broadway, knows the value of truth. As he prepare to mount a Broadway revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Once On This Island this fall, Arden casts his net far and wide to find his actors—as far as Haiti, in fact.
Set in the French Antilles, Once On This Island tells the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who falls in love with well-born Daniel, as the gods of the earth help her along her journey to be with him. Tony-winning actor LaChanze originated the role of Ti Moune in the original Broadway outing.
While Arden’s casting tour included stops in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and upcoming calls in New Orleans (April 29), Atlanta (April 30), and New York (May 2), it was important for the director, his set designer Dane Laffrey and other members of the creatives team to visit the setting of the musical before placing it onstage. Here, Arden shares with us photos from his trip and the impact it will have on his vision for the musical revival:
“I recently had the luxury and honor of being able to travel with some of the Once On This Island creative team to Port Au Prince, Haiti. Our task was to get a sense of the culture, landscape and human perspective of a place that has been through an incredibly tumultuous time.
From the moment we landed, we quickly became aware of the enormous challenges the country and its people have faced, not only over the past ten years, but throughout its fascinating history. Being the only country in the world whose sovereignty comes as the direct result of a slave revolt carries with it a tremendous sense of pride as well as resilience. We had the great pleasure of meeting with many artists, musicians and cultural ambassadors who shared, so generously, their beautiful histories and the colorful culture of the Haitian people.
Casting Broadway’s Once on This Island in Haiti
We were also delighted to meet a number of talented singers who attended our open call. Getting to see them perform and share their stories with us was a reminder that music is a indeed universal language. I am grateful to their willingness to answer our questions and open up about the struggles and joys of their personal lives.
Haiti is a proud nation, rich in heritage and spirituality. How they have been able to not only survive, but thrive is a testament to how the Haitian people have come together to rebuild, create new families and care for one another. I am forever indebted to the people we met and who helped us along the way and cannot wait for to honor their culture and way of life onstage in Once On This Island this fall.”