We enter into a world already in motion. It looks like a large sandbox made for adults to play in, reeling in the aftermath of a storm. The sand that covers the stage is littered with debris, a fallen post near the edge of a body of water, and a shack in the background. The characters are salvaging what is left, engaging with one another and the island they inhabit. Wandering about with these island folk who live their lives in the French Antilles is a caring doctor and even a goat (but dontcha dare try to take a picture of it, or you will get a firm scolding). We have definitely landed in another time and place. Fallen into the lush and musically intoxicating 1990 Broadway musical revival, Once On This Island, at the intimate Circle in the Square Theatre, based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy.
“The story begins on the night of a flood” with thunder booming and lighting flashing overhead. A small girl cries in fear, and in an attempt to comfort her, the village storytellers tell her the intoxicating tale of a peasant girl by the name of Ti Moune, who falls in love with a grand homme, a young gentleman from the other side of the island and a world away from this girl. This is a story of differences, of life, love, and all the pain and effervescence that it may bring. It is also about hope and faith that can reside in a community pulled apart by racial inequality, the walls of differing societal constructs, and destroyed by the turmoil Mother Nature and the Gods can rain down on us silly humans.
It’s a Romeo and Juliet tale, etched with racism and elitism, a perfect fable for the young girl to hear, but also, more importantly for the here and now that we find ourselves. In many ways, I wish we weren’t given privy to these wandering island souls as we take our seats before the play begins. Those first words spoken should instantly transport us, but as staged by director, Michael Arden, it is a slower descent. “There is an island where rivers run deep”, says one of the storytellers breaking the spell and pushing us forward from the real world into theirs. I wanted a more abrupt shift into this musical fable, desiring a greater sense of immediate awe and electricity, although the words smoothly and gently whisked me to her side over time. Once I found myself comfortably there, I could breath in the humid warm air of the Caribbean, and even though those first moments are less than engaging, the first number, ‘We Dance‘, with the uplifting and energetic choreography by Camille A. Brown (PH’s Bella) grab hold of our hearts and souls quickly and we are transported into the world of Once On This Island, as if carried in on an island breeze and rhythmic beat.
There is also the visual splendor of that first storm, courtesy of the beautiful work by set designer, Dane Laffrey (Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, Fool For Love), lighting designer, Jules Fisher + Peggy Eisenhauer (Broadway’s Shuffle Along…), and sound by Peter Hylenski (Anastasia, Something Rotten). It is enough to thoroughly engage that sense of enchantment that I was so hoping for from the beginning of Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty’s (music) Once On This Island. We see a young girl, played by Emerson Davis (Annie Warbucks) seemingly float in the wild stormy waters of the island. The immense power of all the disasters that have occurred lately around our world; from the storms and earthquakes in Haiti to the latest in Houston and Puerto Rico. They come flickering through our minds and make our heart beat as wild as the scenario in front of us. It’s a powerfully creative introduction to what’s in store, and even though the setting is a bit too busy and cluttered, the focus and energy is as clear and exciting as the music and the movement before us.
The main headliner in Once On This Island is the beautifully regal Lea Solonga (Allegiance, Miss Saigon) who has the loveliest of voices and is perfect for her role as Erzulie: Goddess of Love. She exhales tenderness and care in her beautiful number, ‘The Human Heart‘, but the real standout amongst the Gods is Alex Newell, best known for playing the transgender student Unique Adams on the Fox musical series Glee. As Goddess Asaka: Mother of the Earth, Newell delivers the knock-down number, ‘Mama Will Provide‘ that is so very deserving of the standing ovation given mid-show. It’s truly the most electrifying moment on the Broadway stage these days with all the spark and fire imaginable in that flowing gown and headdress. The other two Gods, Quentin Earl Darrington (Broadway’s Cats, Ragtime) as the God of Water, Agwe, and Merle Dandridge (Broadway’s Spamalot, Rent) as the Demon of Death, Papa Ge, play their roles magnificently and are entwined in the dynamics with ease and power, but neither come close to the shock and awe of Newel, nor the melodic beauty of Salonga.
Within this Caribbean-based Romeo and Juliet story, the wonderfully gifted Hailey Kilgore (Ain’t Misbehavin) making her Broadway debut, portrays the young orphaned girl, Ti Houne. This role, the seemingly insignificant teenage girl who is at the center of this myth and legend was originally played by LaChanze on Broadway in 1990, which is a high bar to vault over, but Kilgore does with a fair bit of ease, although her petulance gets a bit much about half way through. After being found by the “black as night” peasants, Mama Euralie (the magnificent and warm Kenita R. Miller) and Tonton Julian (a fantastic and solid Phillip Boykin) who live on one side of the island, she is taken in, adopted and grows up in their loving care. The young girl feeling lost and unfocused prays to the Gods to let her know her purpose in the lovely ‘Waiting for Life‘. Kilgore, greeted by the audience with a tremendous round of applause, draws us in to her plight, passion, and desire. She’s not entirely lovable, mind you, as she is a bit of a handful for her two older adoptive parents. She is strong minded and persistent in her dreams, much to her parents dismay, to become more like the fast-driving strangers who live on the other side of the island, the grands hommes, who see themselves as much higher in the social classes because they are the lighter-skinned descendants of the original French planters and their slaves.
The Gods hear her plea, and in the way that Gods are prone to play with us humans, the Goddess of Love and the Demon of Death quibble about the strength of what they each represent, and suggest a playful bet to prove which is stronger: love or death. Agwe, the magnetic God of Water, singing the powerful song ‘Rain‘ with that gorgeous voice of his, creates a storm that causes the car of Daniel Beauxhomme, a young grande homme played simply and touchingly by the slight Isaac Powell, to crash. Ti Moune finds his destroyed body and tries to restore this intruder back to health. Under the watchful eye of all four Gods, Ti Moune fulfills their game and falls in love with the stranger and is convinced he loves her too. When Papa Ge, the Demon of Death comes for Daniel’s soul as he teeters on the verge of death, Ti Moune desperately offers her own in exchange. We all know at this point that the day of reckoning will eventually come for Ti Moune. Papa Ge will not be left unpaid.
The cast is set for what is to follow, and when the young man is finally returned to his lavish life on the other side, the conflict is uncovered, like the stone dance floor underneath the sand and debris. This piece of musical theatre, although not driving or charged with strong emotionality, is beautifully written and performed. The music and songs soar and the story flows along in the manner you would tell this tale to a young scared girl, nervous about the storm overhead. As it proceeds, the story of Ti Moune and her saved young man deepen beyond just young love, expanding into mythology and the meaning of forgiveness and love that lasts beyond a lifetime. The storytellers, all earthy and connected, share this retelling of how a peasant girl proved the power of love could bring together the people of the island. Her legacy will branch out far beyond her personal story, and the worlds will come together to play in her branches of love and connection. The little girl who was frightened by the storm finds herself a storyteller eventually, telling the story to another generation, just like this wonderful production of Once On This Island is doing, helping us remember to love, to forgive, and to have hope.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Head To The The Algonquin Hotel For Some Holiday Cheer
As we head into the holiday season, The Algonquin Hotel’s December event lineup is open to both hotel guests and New York City locals. The hotel will spread holiday cheer with a variety of festive performances, cocktails, and experiences including:
- Cocoa and Carols Happy Hour: Daily, 5-8PM, Every evening this December, all are invited to enjoy Specialty Cocoa while Christmas carols chime at the Blue Bar. Drinks will include Mexican Hot Chocolate spiked with mezcal
- KT Sullivan Cabaret: December 5th, 12th and 19th, Sullivan will perform her iconic Christmas Cabaret. As noted by The New York Times, Sullivan is a thrilling Off-Broadway performer with over eight published albums
- Rocco Dellaneve’s Rat Pack Christmas: December 7th, 14th and 21st, Rocco Dellaneve will perform iconic songs from the Rat Pack Christmas album with special inclusions of Santa with Sinatra, Rocco of the Snow, Rudolph and the Rat pack
- The Serafina’s and Broadway Vocalists: December 8th, 15th and 22nd, enjoy the high kicking – precision line dancing Christmas tradition around The Algonquin tree. The Serafina’s will be available for pictures and autographs from 6pm to 7pm, followed by special Broadway vocalists
A portion of proceeds from all events will be donated to Toys for Tots.
Beyond the December events, The Algonquin Hotel is located in a prime position nestled in the heart of Times Square and Fifth Avenue, making it the perfect launchpad for a New York City holiday experience. The hotel is a historical jewel that emphasizes the importance of making unique, storied experiences. Since its opening in 1902, The Algonquin Hotel is famous for its timeless style and desire to honor the literary and cultural elite. The distinguished Round Table Restaurant and Blue Bar offer tasteful dining inclusions and curated cocktails that are sure to excite everyone.
Photo credit: The Algonquin Hotel, Autograph Collection
Countdown to Christmas: For The Dancer and Theatre Lover Chita Rivera
2o days to go! Every year people panic to find the perfect gift. We at T2C have been collecting idea’s all year long to bring you the perfect gift guide at all price levels. When you’re at the end of your rope trying to find the perfect Christmas present this year, come to this guide for some great suggestions.
There are a lot of books out there this year but we highly recommend Chita: A Memoir , the critically-acclaimed book is written by the legendary Broadway icon Chita Rivera with arts journalist Patrick Pacheco. Chita takes fans behind-the-scenes of all her shows and cabaret acts, she shares candid stories of her many colleagues, friends, and lovers. She speaks with empathy and hindsight of her deep associations with complicated geniuses like Fosse and Robbins, as well as with the mega-talent Liza Minnelli, with whom she co-starred in The Rink. She openly discusses her affair with Sammy Davis, Jr. as well as her marriage to Tony Mordente and her subsequent off-the-radar relationships. Chita revisits the terrible car accident that threatened to end her career as a dancer forever. Center stage to Chita’s story are John Kander and Fred Ebb, the songwriters and dear friends indelibly tied to her career through some of her most enduring work: Chicago, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and The Visit.
Chita’s love of performing began as a child in Washington, D.C., when her mother enrolled her in a local ballet school to channel her boundless energy. Still a teenager, she moved to New York to attend the School of American Ballet after an audition for George Balanchine himself and winning a scholarship. But Broadway beckoned, and by twenty she was appearing in the choruses of Golden Age shows like Guys and Dolls and Can-Can. In the latter, she received special encouragement from its star Gwen Verdon, forging a personal and professional friendship that would help shape her career. The groundbreaking West Side Story brought her into the orbit of Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Hal Prince, and Stephen Sondheim. After Bye Bye Birdie further burnished her rising star, she reunited with Verdon and her then-husband Bob Fosse to work on the film version of Sweet Charity and the celebrated original Broadway production of Chicago.
Chita: A Memoir was published in English and Spanish and the English audio version of the Memoir was recorded by Chita. A Spanish audio version is also available.
“Chita Rivera blazed a trail where none existed so the rest of us could see a path forward. She has been part of some of the greatest musicals in the history of the form, from Anita in the trailblazing West Side Story through Claire Zachanassian in the underrated masterpiece The Visit, over 60 years later. She is a Puerto Rican Broadway icon and the original ‘triple threat.’ We’re so lucky to be alive in the same timeline as Chita Rivera.” — Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“A frank and fascinating memoir from one of the truly great artists of the American Theater. Lots of stories … Lots of insight … and quite a few caustic statements from Chita’s alter ego, Dolores. An illuminating history and a guaranteed pleasure!” — John Kander
Broadway legend and national treasure Chita Rivera, multi-Tony Award winner, Kennedy Center honoree, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – has taken no prisoners on stage or screen for seven decades. From her trailblazing performance as the original Anita in West Side Story—for which she tapped her own Puerto Rican roots—to her haunting 2015 star turn in The Visit. Chita has proven to be much more than just a captivating dancer, singer, and actress beloved by audiences and casts alike. In her equally captivating and one-of-a-kind memoir, Written with Patrick Pacheco, the woman born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero shares an incomparable life, both on stage and behind the curtain.
By the way this Memoir has won a Gold Medal for “Best Autobiography – English” at the 2023 International Latino Book Awards. https://www.latinobookawards.org/
Click here to buy your copy.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Spamalot
Here is the amazing cast of Spamalot. Christopher Fitzgerald as Patsy, James Monroe Iglehart as King Arthur, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as The Lady of the Lake, Ethan Slater as The Historian/Prince Herbert, Jimmy Smagula as Sir Bedevere, Michael Urie as Sir Robin, Nik Walker as Sir Galahad and Taran Killam as Lancelot.
I was so inspired I drew the whole cast.
To read T2C’s review click here.
Ahead of the Broadway Opening of Lempicka The Longacre Theatre Is Showcasing Art Work By Tamara de Lempicka
The Longacre Theatre (220 W 48th St.), soon-to-be home of the sweeping new musical, Lempicka, is showcasing a curated selection of renowned artist Tamara de Lempicka’s most famous works. Eschewing traditional theatrical front-of-house advertising, the Longacre’s façade now boasts prints, creating a museum-quality exhibition right in the heart of Times Square. The musical opens on Broadway on April 14, 2024 at the same venue.
The Longacre’s outdoor exhibition includes works of Self Portrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti) (1929), Young Girl in Green (1927), Nu Adossé I (1925), The Red Tunic (1927), The Blue Scarf (1930), The Green Turban (1930), Portrait of Marjorie Ferry (1932), Portrait of Ira P. (1930), Portrait of Romana de la Salle (1928), and Adam and Eve (1932).
Starring Eden Espinosa and directed by Tony Award winner Rachel Chavkin, Lempicka features book, lyrics, and original concept by Carson Kreitzer, book and music by Matt Gould, and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly.
Spanning decades of political and personal turmoil and told through a thrilling, pop-infused score, Lempicka boldly explores the contradictions of a world in crisis, a woman ahead of her era, and an artist whose time has finally come.
Young Girl in Green painted by Tamara de Lempicka (1927). Oil on plywood.