Once on This Island

Once on This Island is a one-act musical with a book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. Based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, it is set in the French Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. It concerns a peasant girl on a tropical island, who uses the power of love to bring together people of different social classes.

Once on This Island
Original Broadway Production Logo
MusicStephen Flaherty
LyricsLynn Ahrens
BookLynn Ahrens
BasisMy Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl
by Rosa Guy
Productions1990 Broadway
1994 UK/Europe
1995 West End
2009 UK revival
2017 Broadway revival
2019 National Tour
Awards1995 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical
2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical

The original Broadway production ran from 1990 to 1991, and the West End production opened in 1994, where it won the 1995 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical. The musical was revived on Broadway in a production that opened on December 3, 2017 at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

Production history

Once on This Island was originally staged at Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons, running from May 6, 1990 through May 27, 1990. The Broadway production opened on October 18, 1990 at the Booth Theatre and closed on December 1, 1991, after 469 performances and 19 previews. With direction and choreography by Graciela Daniele, the musical featured LaChanze as Ti Moune, Jerry Dixon as Daniel, Andrea Frierson as Erzulie, Sheila Gibbs as Mama Euralie, Kecia Lewis as Asaka, Gerry McIntyre as Armand, Milton Craig Nealy as Agwe, Eric Riley as Papa Ge, Ellis E. Williams as Tonton Julian and Afi McClendon as Little Ti Moune. In 2002, the original Broadway cast was reunited with special guest Lillias White to perform the show for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund.

The European premiere took place in 1994, hosted by the Birmingham Rep, and then transferred to the West End Royalty Theatre (now the Peacock Theatre) in September 1994. The production won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.[1]

The musical was revived in the UK in 2009 at Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse, and the Hackney Empire Theatre in London. Susie McKenna directed, with Sharon D. Clarke reprising her 1994 role as Asaka.[1][2][3][4] The original West End Ti Moune, Lorna Brown, played Erzulie in this production. In June 2012, the Paper Mill Playhouse presented a production directed by Thomas Kail,[5] with Syesha Mercado as Ti Moune[6] and Darius de Haas as Agwe.[7]

The first Broadway revival of Once on This Island, produced by Ken Davenport, directed by Michael Arden and choreographed by Camille A. Brown, began previews on November 9, 2017 and officially opened on December 3 at the Circle in the Square Theatre. This production featured a stage covered in sand, with live animals onstage, and set and costume design intended to suggest a wrecked beach community recovering from a hurricane.[8] The opening night cast included Hailey Kilgore as Ti Moune, Isaac Powell as Daniel, Alysha Deslorieux as Andrea, Phillip Boykin as Tonton Julian, Kenita R. Miller as Mama Euralie, Alex Newell as Asaka, Merle Dandridge as Papa Ge, Quentin Earl Darrington as Agwe, Lea Salonga as Erzulie and David Jennings as Armand.[9] The revival closed on January 6, 2019, after 458 regular performances.[10]

The musical will tour in North America starting at The Carson Center, Paducah, Kentucky on October 12, 2019, with the official opening on October 15 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville, Tennessee. The tour is directed by Michael Arden with choreography by Camille A. Brown. The tour will feature onstage seating, "creating a unique experience within the footprint of every theatre we play... Audiences will be invited to put their feet in the sand and surround our company, becoming part of the show."[11]


One stormy night in the Antilles archipelago, thunder booms, making a small girl cry in fear. To comfort her, the village storytellers tell her the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who falls in love with a grand homme, Daniel Beauxhomme – a story of life, pain, love, grief, faith, and hope. In this story, four gods (consisting of Asaka: Mother of the Earth, Agwé: god of Water, Erzulie: goddess of Love, and Papa Ge: demon of Death) rule an island known as the Jewel of the Antilles where poor peasants worship them (Prologue/"We Dance"). The peasants, "black as night", live on one side of the island, and the grands hommes, lighter-skinned descendants of the original French planters and their slaves, live on the other. One night, Agwe unleashes a terrible storm upon the island, which in turn causes a disastrous flood, wiping out many villages. However, the gods save the life of a little orphan named Ti Moune by placing her in a tree above the flood's waves. She is found and subsequently adopted by the peasants Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian ("One Small Girl").

Years afterwards, a grown-up Ti Moune prays to the gods to let her know her purpose, and to let her be like the fast-driving strangers on the roads near her village - the grands hommes ("Waiting for Life"). Hearing her plea, the gods laugh at her. However, Erzulie suggests that they give her love, because it is stronger than any of the other elements. Offended, Papa Ge proposes a bet to prove which is stronger: love or death. Agwe arranges for the car of Daniel Beauxhomme, a young grande homme, to crash during a storm so that Ti Moune may meet Daniel and restore him to health ("And The Gods Heard Her Prayer/Rain"). Despite the objections of the other peasants including her own parents, Ti Moune helps the intruder recover ("Pray"). Ti Moune falls in love with the stranger and as she cares for the unconscious boy, she imagines he loves her too. When Papa Ge comes to take Daniel's life, Ti Moune offers her life in exchange for Daniel's so that he will not die ("Forever Yours"). Papa Ge is angry but leaves, hinting he will return – sooner or later, as her life now belongs to him.

Tonton Julian travels to the other side of the Island to seek Daniel's family at the Hotel Beauxhomme. When he returns, he brings with him some of Daniel's people to take the boy back, as well as the story of Daniel's family: Four generations ago, during the Napoleonic era, a French aristocrat named Armand colonised the island. Although Armand had a wife, he had affairs with several natives, one of which bore him a son, named Beauxhomme. When Beauxhomme grew up, war broke out between the peasant locals and the French. The peasants won the war with Beauxhomme's help, after which he banished Armand back to France. Before leaving, however, Armand cursed Beauxhomme and his descendents saying their "black blood will keep them forever on the island, while their hearts yearn forever for France." To this day the curse causes future Beauxhommes to alienate the peasants for reminding them of their homeland ("The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes"). Ti Moune is tearfully separated from Daniel and tells her parents that she will go after Daniel to marry him, and though they are reluctant to let her go, they eventually give her their blessing ("Ti Moune"). The goddess Asaka tells Ti Moune not to fear, as the Earth will give her everything she needs on her journey to Daniel ("Mama Will Provide").

Ti Moune travels across the island ("Waiting For Life (Reprise)"), and the storytellers relate the many versions of her difficult journey to the city (including being forced to wear too-tight shoes), through the hotel gates and finding Daniel's room ("Some Say"). Daniel, still ill and unable to walk, does not remember her but believes her after she describes the scar on his chest. As they stay together, Erzulie gives them the gift of love ("Human Heart"). Daniel ignores the townspeople's gossiping ("Pray (Reprise)") over the unlikely relationship between a rich Beauxhomme and a poor peasant. Daniel delights in Ti Moune's differences from the rich girls in his life, noting that "some girls you marry, some you love" ("Some Girls").

At a ball held at the hotel ("The Ball"), Andrea Devereaux, a daughter of Daniel's family friends, cajoles Ti Moune to dance for them (her ulterior motive being to make her look bad in front of the grande hommes). Ti Moune does dance and gains the admiration of the rich society members, inspiring both the peasant servants and the grande homme guests to join her ("Ti Moune's Dance"). Afterwards, Ti Moune learns that Daniel is already engaged to be married to Andrea ("When We Are Wed"). Daniel, reminded of his responsibilities, must go through with the arranged marriage, although he insists they can be lovers forever, leaving Ti Moune crushed. Papa Ge reappears and reminds Ti Moune of her promise to exchange her life for Daniel's – but says she can revoke the bargain if she kills Daniel ("Promises/Forever Yours (Reprise)"). Ti Moune enters Daniel's room with a knife, but she still loves him too much to kill him, proving love is stronger than death. However, Daniel finds Ti Moune with the knife. Appalled at the attempted murder, the Beauxhommes throw her out of the hotel grounds.

Barred from the hotel, Ti Moune waits for two weeks to try and meet Daniel at the gate. As Daniel and Andrea are married, they follow an old tradition of throwing coins to the peasants outside the hotel gates. Ti Moune calls to Daniel who gently places a silver coin in Ti Moune's hand, kisses her cheek, and leaves. The storytellers tell of how the gods were moved to tears by Ti Moune's selflessness and love, and chose to bestow a final kindness on her; Erzulie took her by the hand and led her to the ocean, where Agwé allowed her to drown peacefully. Papa Ge received her gently and brought her back to shore where Asaka transformed her into a tree ("A Part Of Us").

The tree becomes a celebration of life and love that cracks open the gates of the hotel, allowing those of all social statuses to become one, including a peasant girl and a young grande homme, Daniel's son, as they play in her branches. As the years go by, the story of Ti Moune is told again and again, passed down through generations as proof of the power of love and stories to bring people together. As the musical ends, the little girl who was frightened by the storm begins to retell the story herself ("Why We Tell The Story").


  • Ti Moune - A peasant girl.
    • Little Ti Moune - Ti Moune as a child.
  • Daniel Beauxhomme - A grand homme (French for "upper class"); Ti Moune's love interest; Beauxhomme is French for "beautiful man"
  • Papa Ge - The sly Demon of Death who is the main antagonist of the show. He tricks the main character into giving her life for another. He is seen as a skeleton and is very sneaky. The people on the island fear him because of what he represents: the unknown that is death.
  • Erzulie - Beautiful Goddess of Love; the foil to Papa Ge
  • Agwe - God of Water
  • Asaka - Mother of the Earth
  • Mama Euralie - Ti Moune's adoptive mother
  • Tonton Julian - Ti Moune's adoptive father
  • Andrea Deveraux - Daniel's promised wife; also "Madame Armand"
  • Armand Beauxhomme - Daniel's stern father.
  • "Armand" - The ancestor of Armand Beauxhomme.
  • Gatekeeper - The Hotel Beauxhomme's fierce guard (commonly played by Armand).
  • The Little Girl - A young girl who is told the story of Ti Moune.
  • Daniel's Son - Daniel's young son (commonly played by Daniel's actor).
  • Storytellers/Gossips - Various Grands Hommes and peasants (in most productions, the storytellers are shown as also performing the parts of the Gods).

Note: The original cast was chosen along racial lines with darker-skinned actors portraying the peasants and lighter-skinned actors portraying the upper-class landowners. In the script, the writers provide small line changes that can be used to remove references to skin color to accommodate multi-ethnic productions, while preserving the storyline about differences between the upper and lower classes.[12]

Original casts

Character Playwrights Horizons Cast[13]
Original Broadway Cast[14]
Original West End Cast[15]
Broadway Revival Cast[16][17][18]
Revival National Tour (2019)
Ti Moune LaChanze Lorna Brown Hailey Kilgore Courtnee Carter
Daniel Beauxhomme Jerry Dixon Anthony Corriete Isaac Cole Powell Tyler Hardwick
Asaka Kecia Lewis-Evans Sharon D. Clarke Alex Newell Kyle Ramar Freeman
Agwe Milton Craig Nealy Trevor Michael Georges Quentin Earl Darrington Jahmaul Bakare
Erzulie Andrea Frierson-Toney P. P. Arnold Lea Salonga Cassondra Kellam
Papa Ge Eric Riley Clive Rowe Merle Dandridge Tamyra Gray
Mama Euralie Sheila Gibbs Shezwae Powell Kenita R. Miller Danielle Lee Greaves
Tonton Julian Ellis Williams Johnny Worthy Phillip Boykin
Andrea Deveraux Nikki Rene Suzanne Packer Alysha Deslorieux Briana Brooks
Armand Beauxhomme Gerry McIntyre Mark Vincent David Jennings George L. Brown
Little Ti Moune Afi Bijou Monique Mason1 Emerson Davis
Mia Williamson
Mimi Crossland
Mariama Diop
  1. ^ Elizabeth Kerr originated the role but Mason replaced her during the Birmingham Repertory run and subsequently transferred to the West End.

Notable replacements in the original Broadway cast

Notable replacements in the 2017 Broadway revival cast

Musical numbers

TitleCast Recordings
Broadway (1990)[23] London (1994)[lower-alpha 1][24] Broadway revival (2017)[25]
"We Dance"Storytellers
"One Small Girl"Mama Euralie, Tonton Julian, Little Ti Moune, and Storytellers
"Waiting for Life"Ti Moune and Storytellers
"And the Gods Heard Her Prayer"Asaka, Agwe, Erzulie, and Papa Ge
"Rain"Agwe and Storytellers
"Discovering Daniel"Ti Moune and Storytellers
"Pray"Ti Moune, Mama Euralie, Tonton Julian, Guard and Storytellers
"Forever Yours"Ti Moune, Daniel and Papa Ge
"The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes"Armand and Storytellers
"Ti Moune"Ti Moune, Mama Euralie, Tonton Julian
"Mama Will Provide"Asaka and Storytellers
"Waiting for Life" (Reprise)"[lower-alpha 2]Ti Moune
"Some Say"Storytellers
"The Human Heart"Erzulie and Storytellers
"Pray" (Reprise)[lower-alpha 3]Storytellers
"Gossip"[lower-alpha 3][lower-alpha 4]Storytellers
"Some Girls"Daniel
"The Ball"Andrea, Daniel, Ti Moune, and Storytellers
"Ti Moune's Dance"Erzulie, Asaka, Agwe, Papa Ge, and Storytellers
"When We Are Wed"Andrea, Daniel and Ti Moune
"Promises"Papa Ge, Ti Moune, and Storytellers
"Forever Yours" (Reprise)Papa Ge, Ti Moune, Erzulie, and Storytellers
"Wedding Sequence"Papa Ge, Ti Moune, and Storytellers
"A Part of Us"Mama Euralie, Tonton Julian, Little Ti Moune, and Storytellers
"Why We Tell the Story"Storytellers
  1. Includes bonus remix track of "The Human Heart", performed by P. P. Arnold (Erzulie).
  2. Included in production, but not recordings.
  3. "Gossip" replaces "Pray" (Reprise) for the Broadway revival (2017).[26]
  4. Not included in the original Broadway production.[27]

Cut songs include "Come Down From the Tree" and "When Daniel Marries".[28][29] "Come Down From the Tree", was a song for Mama Euralie; it is included in several recordings, including its first recording on Bruce Kimmel's Lost in Boston CD, where it was sung by Lillias White - it was also included on Audra McDonald's How Glory Goes.[30]

Awards and nominations

Original Broadway production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1991 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Book of a Musical Lynn Ahrens Nominated
Best Original Score Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical LaChanze Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Graciela Daniele Nominated
Best Choreography Nominated
Best Costume Design Judy Dearing Nominated
Best Lighting Design Allen Lee Hughes Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical LaChanze Nominated
Theatre World Award Won

Original London production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1995 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Won
Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical Sharon D. Clarke Nominated
Best Director of a Musical David Toguri and Gwenda Hughes Nominated
Best Theatre Choreographer David Toguri Nominated

2017 Broadway revival

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2018 Tony Awards[31] Best Revival of a Musical Won
Best Actress in a Musical Hailey Kilgore Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Michael Arden Nominated
Best Scenic Design in a Musical Dane Laffrey Nominated
Best Costume Design in a Musical Clint Ramos Nominated
Best Lighting Design in a Musical Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer Nominated
Best Sound Design Peter Hylenski Nominated
Best Orchestrations AnnMarie Millazo and Michael Starobin Nominated
Drama Desk Awards[32] Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Kenita R. Miller Nominated
Outstanding Choreography Camille A. Brown Nominated
Outstanding Orchestrations AnnMarie Milazzo and Michael Starobin (John Bertles and Bash the Trash, found instrument design) Nominated
Outstanding Set Design for a Musical Dane Laffrey Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design for a Musical Clint Ramos Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design for a Musical Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer Won
Theatre World Award[33] Hailey Kilgore Honoree
2019 Grammy Awards Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album Nominated


  1. Shenton, Mark. "Clarke to Star in U.K. Revival of Ahrens and Flaherty's 'Once on This Island' ", Playbill.com, January 12, 2009.
  2. Once on This Island listing, nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk, 2009, retrieved January 10, 2010.
  3. Once on This Island listing, birmingham-rep.co.uk, 2009, retrieved January 10, 2010
  4. Bosanquet, Theo. "Review:Once on This Island at Hackney, whatsonstage.com, July 29, 2009.
  5. "Goings on about Town: The Theatre", The New Yorker
  6. "Theatre in Review: Once on This Island (Paper Mill Playhouse)", L&S Online America, June 11, 2012
  7. "Stage Tube: Highlights from Paper Mill Playhouse's Once on this Island", broadway.com, June 11, 2012
  8. Deb, Sopan (April 27, 2018). "Ravaged but Resilient: Creating 'Once on This Island'". New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  9. "Breaking: Lea Salonga, Merle Dandridge, Quentin Earl Darrington & Alex Newell Join Once on this Island", Broadway World, accessed August 8, 2017
  10. "Closing Date on Broadway", Playbill
  11. Gans, Andrew. "Tamyra Gray, Phillip Boykin, More Will Star in National Tour of Once On This Island"., Playbill, August 15, 2019
  12. Ahrens, Lynn (1991). Libretto Vocal Book, Once on This Island. Hillsdale Music. p. vii.
  13. Rich, Frank (1990-05-07). "Review/Theater; 'Once on This Island,' Fairy Tale Bringing Caribbean to 42d Street". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  14. "Person List". Playbill. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  15. "Once On This Island Original West End Cast - 1994 West End". www.broadwayworld.com. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  16. "Breaking News: Phillip Boykin, Alysha Deslorieux, Kenita R. Miller and More to Set Sail with Broadway's ONCE ON THIS ISLAND". BroadwayWorld.com. 2017-08-01. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  17. "Breaking: Lea Salonga, Merle Dandridge, Quentin Earl Darrington & Alex Newell Join ONCE ON THIS ISLAND". BroadwayWorld.com. 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
  18. Rickwald, Bethany (2017-10-06). "Broadway's Once on This Island Announces Complete Casting". TheaterMania.com. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
  19. Hetrick, Adam. "Norm Lewis and Tamyra Gray Join Cast of Broadway’s 'Once on This Island' January 8" Playbill, January 8, 2018
  20. Hetrick, Adam (2018-03-16). "Quentin Earl Darrington Returns to Broadway's Once On This Island March 16". Playbill. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  21. Hetrick, Adam. "Merle Dandridge Returns to Broadway's Once on This Island". Playbill. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  22. "Destiny's Child's Michelle Williams to Join the Cast of Tony-Winning Once On This Island". Broadway.com. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  23. Once On This Island (1990 Broadway Cast Recording) at Discogs (list of releases)
  24. Once On This Island (1994 London Cast Recording) at Discogs (list of releases)
  25. Once On This Island (2017 New Broadway Cast Recording) at Discogs (list of releases)
  26. "Once on This Island (2017): Songs". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  27. "Once on This Island (1990): Songs". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved July 19, 2012.
  28. "Discography, see p. 5, Lost in Boston series" ahrensandflaherty.com, accessed July 21, 2012
  29. Jones, Kenneth. "Playbill On-Line's Brief Encounter with Lynn Ahrens", Playbill.com, April 30, 2002
  30. How Glory Goes, nonesuch.com, accessed July 21, 2012
  31. "2018 Tony Award Nominations: SpongeBob SquarePants and Mean Girls Lead the Pack". Playbill. 2018-05-01. Retrieved 2018-05-01.
  32. "Breaking: CAROUSEL, SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS Lead the Pack with Drama Desk Awards Nominations; The Full List!". BroadwayWorld.com. 2018-04-26. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
  33. "Noma Dumezweni, Harry Hadden-Paton, and More to Receive Theatre World Awards". BroadwayWorld.com. 2018-05-08. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
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