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Music Review

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Once on This Island
The Musical
New Broadway Cast Recording


Music: Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens
Book: Lynn Ahrens
Performed by: Lea Salonga, Alex Newell, Merle Dandridge Quentin Earl Darrington and Hailey Kilgore
Label: Broadway Records
RRP: £12.99
Release Date: 22 February 2018

The second of the two Broadway Records cast recordings I’ve had for review is a milestone recording. A milestone in a couple of ways. Firstly, it marks the 100th release for Broadway Records. This is a great achievement in anyone’s books, but given the niche market that cast recordings have become, the consistent quality of releases, and the eye-watering speed at which they have reached this figure (six years), it really is something that producer Van Dean and the team should be hugely proud of. The second reason that this is a recording we should take extra note of is that I believe it’s up there with The Color Purple as probably one of the best revival recordings ever issued.

Once On This Island is the tale of Ti Moune, a fearless peasant girl who falls in love with a wealthy boy from the other side of the island. When their divided cultures keep them apart, Ti Moune is guided by the powerful island gods, Erzulie, Asaka, Papa Ge, and Agwe, on a remarkable quest to reunite with the man who has captured her heart. Bursting with Caribbean colours, rhythms and dance, the story comes to vibrant life in a striking production by Tony Award-nominated director Michael Arden (Spring Awakening revival) and acclaimed choreographer Camille A. Brown. This production transforms the reality of a tropical village devastated by a storm into a fantastical world alive with hope.

Lea Salonga (Erzulie), Alex Newell (Asaka), Merle Dandridge (Papa Ge), and Quentin Earl Darrington (Agwe) are joined by newcomer, Hailey Kilgore (Ti Moune) with Phillip Boykin (Tonton Julian), Darlesia Cearcy (Storyteller), Rodrick Covington (Storyteller), Emerson Davis (Little Girl) Alysha Deslorieux (Andrea), Tyler Hardwick (Storyteller), Cassondra James (Storyteller), David Jennings (Armand), Grasan Kingsberry (Storyteller), Loren Lott (Storyteller), Kenita R. Miller (Mama Euralie), Isaac Powell (Daniel), T. Oliver Reid (Storyteller), Aurelia Williams (Storyteller), and Mia Williamson (Little Girl).

Once On This Island is written by the Tony Award-winning team Lynn Ahrens (Book and Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music), and based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy. This production features new orchestrations by original orchestrator Michael Starobin who is joined by AnnMarie Milazzo.

We already have two excellent recordings of this from the original Broadway and London productions, and when it was announced I did wonder if there was need for another, and how would it sit with the existing releases. It didn’t take more that the first track for me to realise that this recording was more than capable of holding its own. It’s a much more ‘live and open’ feel to the previous recordings, and the lighter orchestrations sound focused and alive. It’s a very clean recording, which some might find a little pure, but I found it to be a very true recording.

The show is making a star out of Hailey Kilgore, for good reason. Her vocal is strong from her first number ('Waiting For Life') and continues to grow through the show. Sure, she probably hasn’t got the power of La Chanze, but she is superb in her portrayal of Ti Moune. I can only imagine what she is like to watch - and I’m lucky enough to find out later in the month when I catch the show on Broadway, along with Anastasia (another Ahrens and Flaherty score, and another recent Broadway Records capture).

Others worthy of note are many, but I must single out Alex Newell for ‘Mama Will Provide’ - one of my favourite numbers in the show, and delivered here with mucho gusto, and a superbly controlled vocal. No album featuring Lea Salonga is ever less than memorable, and her rendition of ‘The Human Heart’ is probably the best I have heard it sung on any recording. Also a mention is deserved for Isaac Powell, for his rendition of ‘Some Girls’, a great song and one that comes across especially well on the recording.

A fitting a 100th release as there could be - here’s to the next 100, Van!


Ian Gude

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