The Goat and the Chickens are not making the trip to Dallas for the North American tour of Once on this island. But there will be tons of sand on stage with some of the audience seated behind and on either side of the immersive set.
Be sure to arrive early. Depicting villagers coming back to life after a devastating flood, the actors go about their business before the Broadway musical even officially begins.
As some of them transform into gods who will test a peasant woman’s quest to bridge the racial divide on her French West Indies archipelago, they don scattered debris and other sets and props as costumes.
The actress playing the goddess of love Erzulie, for example, puts on the same mosquito net she distributed in her role as a nurse. Caribbean-style music also uses a minimal, realistic approach—pots and pans and other found, homemade instruments in place of an orchestra. And those onions, those 60 candles on stage? These are real cooked and lit onions and candles.
“We wanted it to be as accurate and authentic as possible. It’s so exciting for the audience not to see a painted set but something real,” says director Michael Arden, who pursued the project for years before the composers agreed to let him stage his concept.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do this in circles and only use instruments that we could carry and our voices when you really don’t have anything else?’ If there was an earthquake or a storm and everything was destroyed, you wouldn’t have any instruments to play. You would just be able to use your body, your voice and your waste. It was an idea born out of necessity. … Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take our animals on the road.
The cast of the tour Once on this island coming to Winspear Opera House Dec. 17-22 as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Broadway Series features several actors from the 2017 revival of Arden, including former american idol contestant Tamyra Gray as Papa Ge, the death demon, and Tony contestant Phillip Boykin as Tonton Julian, one of the peasants who adopts orphan Ti Moune (Courtnee Carter).
She comes from the poor side of the island, where everyone is “black as night” and “eternally at the mercy of the wind and the sea, who constantly pray to the gods”, according to the opening number “We Dance “.
On the other hand, the “great men” who drive fast cars and live in chic have “pale brown skin and French mannerisms” and are “owners of the land and masters of their own destiny”.
Through arrangements only the gods can muster, Ti Moune, seeking her purpose in life, is set up to care for light-skinned Daniel after he is injured in the storm.
When she falls in love unhappily, overcoming this “colorism” becomes the theme of the musical.
Arden’s version of the 1990 allegorical musical surpassed the original production in popularity and critical acclaim. Both have been nominated for multiple Tony Awards, including directing Arden.
The composers, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who went on to write Ragtime and Anastasiabased Once on this island on the 1985 novel My love, my love or the peasant girl by Rosa Guy. The original version was staged in a more conventional way.
Arden was still primarily an actor – he made his Broadway debut in 2003 as Tom Sawyer in big river — when he first approached Ahrens and Flaherty with his idea a decade later. At the time, he was playing in a concert version of Ragtime. They passed until they saw his first reimagining of a Broadway hit, spring awakeningwhich was revived in 2014 with deaf actors making up half of the cast.
For the framework of the revival of Once on this island, Arden was inspired by Haiti in the aftermath of 2016 Hurricane Matthew and the 2010 earthquake that rocked the already impoverished and class-divided country. He and set designer Dane Laffrey, who was the roommate of Arden’s boarding school in Michigan, traveled to Haiti to collect the details that end up on stage.
The production team also includes renowned choreographer Camilla A. Brown.
“It was fitting that we looked at a country that had been ravaged by storm and earthquake and its history of a slave uprising that led to its class division,” Arden says. “It just seemed irrefutable that we needed to be immersed in the culture and really do as much research as possible. honor this place, this culture, in the storytelling.
Manuel Mendoza is a freelance writer and former staff critic for the Dallas Morning News.
December 17-22 at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St., Dallas. $30 to $155. 214-880-0202. attpac.org.