The Tony Award-nominated 1990 musical Once on This Island, which features a score by Tony Award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is in the midst of an exploratory workshop in New York under the direction of Michael Arden (Deaf West’s Spring Awakening).
The creative team is taking a fresh look at the conceit of the musical, which unfolds as a group of storytellers recount the tale of Ti Moune, a Caribbean island country girl in love with an aristocrat.
“We are taking a looking at disaster, like we’ve seen in Haiti, and how that can be a metaphor for how we all rebuild,” Arden tells Playbill.com.
With the help of orchestrator Michael Starobin and vocal designer Ann Marie Milazzo, this new Once on This Island will sonically represent Arden’s vision for the setting.
According to Flaherty, “We started toying with the idea of, ‘What if this was not a traditional pit orchestra? What if it was whatever you had on hand to make theatre?’ We are going for a more acoustic feel and stretching the boundary to ask, ‘What is an instrument. How can you make music?’”
Starobin has been working to build instruments out of “garbage” and found objects, including trash bins, flexible piping, and more.
“We are approaching this sonically in a new way, by making the human body an instrument in a way that it hasn’t been heard in the past. We are taking a lot of the orchestrations and making them vocal orchestrations.”
While musicians are still integral to the production, Milazzo has reconceived the orchestrations as multi-layered vocal arrangements that ebb and flow as part of the musical storytelling.
“It’s so basic and so real. It’s really exciting,” Flaherty says.
It’s been nearly three decades since Once on This Island premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, prior to its year-long Broadway run at the Booth Theatre during the 1990-1991 season.
“It’s such an inclusive show and there’s a message of reconciliation of race and people coming together with vast differences, and just having had our election, it seems rather timely,” Ahrens says of the musical’s return. Flaherty adds, “It’s such a positive energy show and it’s about unity and people coming together and I think that’s really important now.”
According to Arden, “The time is now in terms of how we have to look at people’s differences instead of claiming we are all the same. I think we need to look at our differences, and how those differences make us unique and how we build a bridge between them. This is the perfect time to tell a story about how love conquers hate, and even death.”
A private industry reading will take place December 16. “We are very excited for this opportunity to hear this incredible Ahrens & Flaherty score with new arrangements, new orchestrations, and even a few new instruments created just for Michael Arden's vision for this joyous musical,” Davenport said in a statement.
The workshop cast includes Darlesia Clearcy, Lawrence Clyton, Patrice Covington, Quentin Earl Darrington, Charity Angel Dawson, Mike Evariste, Adrianna Jackson, Bre Jackson, Cassondra James, Isaiah Johnson, Mykal Kilgore, Grasan Kingsberry, Kenita R. Miller, Dimitri Joseph Moise, and Maria Wirries. Jason Michael Webb is music director.
View exclusive workshop photos below:
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