Book & Lyrics by Lynn Ahern
Music by Stephen Flaherty
adapted from the novel My Love, My Love, or The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, and Romeo & Juliet, by Shakespeare, as well as The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Anderson

INFO:
Opened
at the Booth Theatre    October 18, 1990    469 performances
Original Director: Graciela Daniele
Original Choreographer: Daniele
Original Producer: Playwright’s Horizon, The Schubert Organization, Capital Cities/ABC, Inc, Suntory International Corporation etc…
Original Leads: Ti Moune: LaChanze
Cast Size: Male: 4    Female: 4    Ensemble: 8 or more    Total Cast Size: 16 or more, as many as needed
Orchestra: 5
Published Script: None.
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: The original Broadway.
Other shows by the authors
: Ragtime, Suessical

Awards: Nominated for 8 Tonys, lost them all. (How Gracielle Danielle did not win is a mystery to me. It had competition from Miss Saigon, a great show, and Will Rogers Follies, an okay show and the big Tony winner that year. I love Tommy Tune’s work, always have, but really? Island was the best directed and staged production that year, easily. Will Rogers Follies won best score that year, as well, which is ridiculous. Both Miss Saigon and Once On This Island have far superior scores, and I’d give the edge to this show, by a considerable margin. I don’t get it.)

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

Colleges and universities with strong acting and dance programs, the rare High School. Great for Dinner Theaters that do reasonably pro work, though you’ll need to insert an intermission. Fantastic for smaller pro companies, stock companies with the dancers and singers, and of course, Broadway, Off-Broadway, and the West End. Should be done all the time.

Be Warned:

An easy show to do poorly! If you don’t have a terrific and imaginative Director and design team, a strong Musical Director and Choreographer (ideally one and the same for this show), skip it and do something a bit easier to pull off.

This show is done often by all kinds of theater groups. You’ll want to check for availability, and to see if it has been recently done in your area, before making a decision.

THE STORY: (Outline from MTI site)

ACT ONE: The peasants appear to describe their world, ruled by powerful gods and dictated by wealthy ‘grands hommes’ who never assimilate with their kind (“Prologue/We Dance”).

The peasants begin to tell the audience the tale of a young peasant girl, who fell in love with a grand homme, named Ti Moune (“One Small Girl”). According to the story, Ti Moune was magically saved from a flood by the gods when she was a child. This is to be her fateful destiny.

Ti Moune, who has turned into a beautiful woman, appears in the fields. She is hard at work but also busy dreaming of the future and what promises she seek in her life (“Waiting For Life”). Later, the gods of Earth, Water, Love, and Death convene. After hearing Ti Moune’s lament, they decide to allow Ti Moune to have her wish – and meet the grand homme (“And The Gods Heard Her Prayer”).

The gods have all agreed to each play a part in her journey and wager to see which will win: love or death. Agwe, the God of Water, begins by creating a terrible monsoon on the island, which causes a young grand home named Daniel to crash his car on a slick road (“Rain”). Fortunately, Ti Moune is there to discover and rescue him. Although her parents object, Ti Moune decides to care for him.

While her father, Tonton Julian, goes off in search of Daniel’s family, Ti Moune’s mother, Mama Euralie, observes Ti Moune’s immediate and deep love for this boy. Elsewhere, Tonton Julian discovers Daniel’s family, who happen to live behind the guarded gates of a fine hotel on the other side of the island. Meanwhile, the peasants fear Ti Moune’s folly will bring the wrath of the gods down upon them (“Pray”). As they pray, a terrible storm is rising.

Inside her hut, Ti Moune continues to care for Daniel and eventually pledges her love to him (“Forever Yours”). Suddenly, Papa Ge, the sly Demon of Death, arrives to claim Daniel. Ti Moune promises to give up her own life and soul if Papa Ge will only spare Daniel. He gleefully agrees to her bargain. As a brief side, the Storytellers reappear to give a history lesson of Daniel’s clan, the Beauxhommes (“The Sad Tale Of The Beauxhommes”). In the pantomime, it is revealed that Daniel hails from a cursed family.

Tonton Julian arrives with Daniel’s family and they carry him off in a stretcher. Ti Moune insists on following Daniel. Although her parents plead with her to remain with them, they eventually allow her to leave with their blessing (“Ti Moune”).

Ti Moune’s journey begins as the storytellers enter dressed as colorful birds, trees, frogs, and breezes. They introduce Asaka, the formidable Mother of the Earth, who promises Ti Moune that she will provide her with guidance and protection (“Mama Will Provide”). As Ti Moune ventures on, the storytellers describe her long, adventurous journey to Daniel (“Some Say”).

Finally at the Hotel Beauxhomme, Ti Moune enters Daniel’s room where he lies in bed, still feverish from his injuries. She convinces him that she has come to heal him, and he agrees to let her stay the night. As Ti Moune lies down beside him, the Goddess of Love, Erzulie, appears to preside over them (“The Human Heart”). As Daniel and Ti Moune fall deeply in love, gossip spreads throughout the island about the unlikely love between royalty and poor (“Pray – Reprise”).

On a starlit evening, Ti Moune tells Daniel of her dreams for their future. He unexpectedly replies with doubt and uncertainty, explaining that there will be girls you love and girls you marry – these two kinds are not the same (“Some Girls”).

At the Hotel Beauxhomme, a ball is held and the grand hommes eagerly wait for a glimpse of Ti Moune. She arrives, dressed beautifully but simply. Daniel introduces Ti Moune to Andrea Devereaux, a young beautiful and elegant girl. At Andrea’s request, Ti Moune dances; enchanting everyone at the ball (“The Ball”). As Ti Moune celebrates her triumphant performance, Andrea then asks her to perform at her wedding with Daniel. It is then revealed that Daniel was promised to Andrea as a child – many years ago. Ti Moune, in complete shock, is bluntly told by Daniel that he could never marry her.

Now desolate and alone, Ti Moune hears critical voices from the past, echoing in her head. Papa Ge appears and reminds her of her promise. He is willing to negotiate, however. Instead of surrendering her own soul, she can choose to have her life back by killing Daniel. Reminding her of Daniel’s betrayal, he gives her a knife.

Daniel is exposed by the Storytellers. Ti Moune, with a knife in her hand, begins to charge for Daniel when Erzulie appears to remind her of the human heart. Ti Moune throws the knife down, choosing her love for Daniel over her desire to live (“Promises/Forever Yours – Reprise”). Love has defeated death. For her actions, Ti Moune is thrown out of the Hotel Beauxhomme. She waits for two weeks at the gate without food or sleep until Daniel and Andrea pass by her after their wedding, tossing coins to the peasants. She calls out to Daniel and he pauses by her side for a moment, then moves on. She curls up in despair and, as she dies, from her hand falls Daniel’s coin. Mama Euralie mourns the loss of her beloved daughter (“Part Of Us”).

The Storytellers appear to tell us of Ti Moune’s ending. Asaka lays her to rest in the earth and Ti Moune is resurrected as a beautiful tree, one which will shelter peasants for years to come. Ti Moune will watch over Daniel and his family, and her spirit has set them free to finally love one another (“Why We Tell The Story”).

THE SONGS:

“We Dance”, “One Small Girl”, “Waiting For Life”, “And The Gods Heard Her Prayer”, “Rain”, “Pray”, “Forever Yours”, “The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes “, “Ti Moune”, “Mama Will Provide”, “Some Say”, “The Human Heart”, “Some Girls”, “The Ball”, “When We Were Wed”, “A Part Of Us”, “Why We Tell The Story”

Hit Songs: “Waiting For Life”, “Forever Yours”, “Mama Will Provide”. (In its own way, as good a score as has been written in the past 30 years. I particularly like “Some Girls”, a gorgeous song.)

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to skip or ignore my opinions and rating. And if that pisses off the Gods and sinks your island, well, so be it.

One of the most tuneful, energetic, beautiful and memorable of all Musicals. The story it’s based on is a classic, of course, and beloved. The idea of moving Romeo & Juliet, and Anderson’s tale to the Caribbean and making the adaptations made here was inspired. The music is always fun, always vital, and in its more dramatic moments approaches the power of something like Lost In The Stars, a folk opera/musical composed by Kurt Weill. The lyrics are expert, professional, and often moving of their own accord. Ms. Ahern is one of the very few successful professional female lyricists in theater history. This show, along with Ragtime, places her high among the best of theatrical lyricists. Few lyricists of the past 25 years have done better work, that is certainly true.

Island is a work of art, powerful, and always entertaining. When done right, this show is a feast for the eyes, ears and heart. When done poorly or amateurishly, this can be one of your more embarrassing shows to do. One of the telling points are the accents used. That Caribbean island where the action takes place calls for strong actors who can execute strong but understandable accents, thorough and constant. Anything less than that (as I’ve seen, say, in some High School productions) starts to be embarrassing on several levels. Sorry, it is so.

This is a show that very much requires an excellent production. The staging and choreography must be seamless, almost impossible to tell where one leaves off and the other starts, and everything in service of the story-telling. This is a show all about the telling of tales. The movement must be professionally done, or as close to it as you can get. The music, as well, demands a lot of the performers, including the musicians. And the acting called for is full-blooded, mythic. A great show for smaller professional companies, for any pro company with the talent pool to pull it off. A fun show for colleges and universities, sure, and perhaps some exceptional High School somewhere. But the size of this show is misleading. It may look like an easy show to do because the set and costume values are relatively simple (they can be), but this show has deceived you if you think it’s The Fantasticks or You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, to name two shows I love that are relatively easy to do (especially Charlie Brown). This show is much more demanding than either of those wonderful shows.

Some very small gripes – It is a bit odd that it is all presented as a one act, no intermission. But there are precedents like Man Of La Mancha. Given my druthers, the show would be ten-fifteen minutes longer, a touch funnier (it needs more humor, some of which can be generated through direction and performances), an intermission would be placed in – and some of the sung connective material between songs would turn into scenes. There are lines sung that are too recitative-like, and which would have benefited from removing the music and developing dialogue. More book between songs would have also have helped make each song an event – something these wonderful songs deserve. In short, the show could use a more developed book – though everything that is there works very well, and is moving.

A show that convincingly tells us that “Love and survive the storm – and survive even in the face of death” deserves a life, does it not? I’m not too worried about this one.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)

 

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The score is rich with harmony, rhythm, variation, warmth and vitality. A Musical Director working it will need to be comfortable with numerous musical styles, including pop ballads, Caribbean upbeats, and theatrical traditional. The piece is almost sung-through, so your rehearsal pianist must be tireless. You orchestra, small as it is, must be very tight, near perfect. Your singers need to be trained, with seriously developed theater voices, if at all possible. Start teaching music early, a show uniquely heavy with harmonization. No job for a novice, this show needs a rather expert Musical Director.

Ti Moune – Belt, big range, great passion while singing. Warm and accessible in the ballads, a voice filled with yearning.

Erzulie – Soprano, beautiful warm voice, sensual and inviting. An excellent feel for a rich pop ballad.

Mama Euralie – Alto, warm mid-range, good at harmonizing.

Tonton Julian – Lyric baritone, good at harmonizing.

Daniel – Tenor, a leading man sort of tenor voice, romantic and emotive.

Andrea – Mezzo, a smart, efficient, mocking voice. A full belt when needed, a fine singer required.

Papa Gee – Tenor, trained, a huge, angry belt, sings with energy, commitment, great breath control, a sense of danger.

Asaka – Mezzo with a belt, some high notes, and great energy and commitment.

Agwe – Baritone, lyrical and powerful.

Ensemble – Big voices, big ranges, great clarity with lyrics, strong harmonizing – there’s a lot. The more that can read music, the better.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This is a highly kinetic show. It is a constant dance between actors, lights, sounds, images, and the audience. The more carefully, seamlessly and thoroughly integrated the elements, the better. It should all feel entirely of a piece, utterly coordinated, everything in service of the tale being told. It isn’t that nothing should “stand out,” but in the case of Island, everything should stand out. It is a show crying out for excellent execution and design. So the Choreographer is probably going to have a hand in the staging of just about everything, and be connected by the hip to the Director. It would be best, as was the case with Ms. Daniele, if they were one person. If not, you will need to have numerous lengthy discussions about the design of the movement in the show.

Choreography for this show will need to be steeped in traditional dances and movement from the Caribbean. This will require some research, most likely. The larger your vocabulary in terms of such moves, the more interesting the show is likely to be for the Choreographer and for the audience.

Numbers a Choreographer will likely get involved include “We Dance”, “Pray”, “The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes”,“Mama Will Provide”, “Some Say”,“Some Girls”, “The Ball”, “Why We Tell The Story”

“We Dance” introduces the musical feel and location of the piece, and the idea that there are Gods looking down on the other characters and dictating their fate. It should be open, warm, inviting, and vital. Indigenous dance should be employed whenever possible here, and throughout. This number is a celebration of a way of life, of faith, of the universe being right and in order. It is a rite, but a joyous one.

“Pray” grows into a kind of frightening, mass voodoo or Santeria rite, a madly danced prayer to the Gods that feels staged, yet out of control, darkly promising dire consequences. A full-company number that should explode across the stage, and perhaps even up the aisles. Long hair should fly and whip about, arms reach for the Gods and the earth and the dying man, sympathetic magic be employed. This number intensely pumps up the energy of the show, and really sets the story in motion. A fantastic opportunity for the Choreographer to show off, and yet continue to tell the story. A show-stopper.

“The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes” is more staged than choreographed. It is story-telling inside a piece that is all story-telling, a sort of play within a play. An over-the-top fairy tale within a fairy tale where all the characters, even Europeans, have local accents and are played by the locals, and this, their history, is given a distinct local feel. It is a waltz, and could benefit from a sort of mad-waltz feel in what movement there is. A “war” is fought in the middle, and this is often presented as a sort of chaos. I think it should be the one part of the number truly choreographed, a mad waltz of assaults and murders, dynamic and yet tongue-in-cheek. One more thing – this number is the least well-attached to the show. It’s sort of hard to know why it’s there. Make sure your audience knows.

“Mama Will Provide” is almost a conga, high-energy, a full company celebration of the life we belong to. “Some Say” picks right up where it leaves off, the company becoming townspeople. The changes are quick, choreographed in. Keep these numbers moving, keep the narrative front and center. I would not wait for applause after “Mama”, just move into the city and the second number, keep the costumes and lighting changes fluid and useful. “Mama” should be more staged, certainly more choreographed than “Some Say,” which is more about story-telling.

“Some Girls” can used to present a simple contrast, cultured and educated girls (or a girl, Andrea) isolated in light waltzing (yes, another waltz), lovely and distant, while Ti Moune is still and present and filled with warmth and love. The others reach for Daniel, but for the moment, his attention is on Ti Moune. “The Ball” then begins, a gauche, French-like waltz for full company, a grand ballroom kind of dance. The story-telling must be served by the movement throughout. And a sense of a waltz should never be dropped until it breaks into “We Dance”, and the native movement of the island takes Ti Moune’s body and sets her in motion, in joy. The sophisticated partiers attempt to keep up, even as they subtly make fun of her, but she is more alive and elastic than they are, and her movement feels natural compared to the waltz. It should be clear their worlds are far apart.

“Why We Tell The Story” must explode with joy, a celebration of the victory of love, of story-telling, of passing stories down from generation to generation so that they live, as well. When she’s turned into a tree, it is not a punishment but rather a reward from the Gods for her strength and love. And everyone should see it as such. In a larger sense, the song deals with theater as a whole, with all art, and why we tell stories. So the actors might sing directly to the audience. Uplift should be the keynote.

CASTING CONCERNS:

This is bound to be one of the hardest working casts in show-biz. The costume changes alone that the Gods, doubling as ensemble (as is likely) is exhausting to watch, much less actually do. The show, when well done, almost never stops moving and singing. A real workout for what will need to be an almost entirely young cast, 20s-30s. No show for the local senior’s theater troupe, I’m afraid.

Ti Moune – Late teens – 20s. Beautiful, lively, attractive, vivacious but naive young woman. She has been spared by the Gods and decides it is so she can save Daniel. All heart and soul, passion and faith, and filled with impetuosity. Must move extremely well, be a very strong actress capable of changing and moving through passionate emotions quickly and believably. Cast for type, voice, movement, acting, accent, but must do everything well. A star.

Daniel – 20s. Handsome, patrician, with a well masked arrogance. A self-involved romantic who will withhold the critical truth from an innocent so that he can enjoy her, enjoy what he is feeling. A man who wants his cake and to eat it, as well. Ultimately insensitive, selfish, heartless. A good actor, good singer. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement.

Erzulie – 30s-40s. The Goddess of Love. Beautiful, larger than life, mature, warmer and more accessible than the other Gods. Vivacious, fun-loving, alive Cast for voice, acting, type. Must be a strong performer at ease on stage.

Mama Euralie – 30s-50s. Matronly, loving, a mother to her toes. A woman who feels things deeply. Cast for acting, voice, type. (Can be younger to play older, with a wig defining the character which can be removed when she doubles in the ensemble.)

Tonton Julian – 30s-50s. A loving father who will go to any lengths for his daughter. Euralie and Julian are parents we should all wish for. It is important to the story that be the case. Cast for acting, type, voice. (Can be younger to play older, with a wig defining the character which can be removed when he doubles in the ensemble.)

Papa Gee – 20s-40s. The Gods are connected to Human lives, and not. They are interested, but always a touch remote. Papa Gee is Death, loud, angry, violent, possessive and arrogant. Frightening in his intensity, impressive. Cast for acting, voice, type.

Asaka – The Goddess of Earth. Mature, wise, interested in what happens more than the other Gods. Must be a strong performer at ease on stage. Cast for voice, acting, movement, type.

Agwe – The God of water and the ocean. A large, impressive man able to move with great fluidity and strength. Cast for type, movement, voice, acting. A presence always, as they live on an island.

Andrea – 20s, Daniel’s intended from their youth. Can be played two ways. One: pampered, arrogant, a social animal, covert, possessive. (Not really recommended , though I’ve seen it done.) Two: pampered, but kind, open-eyed and realistic. Disapproving genuinely of how Daniel has led Ti Moune on, frustrated and disappointed with this small man. Cast for type, acting, voice and movement dor ensemble.

Gatekeeper – 20s-50s. Abrupt, arrogant, better than anyone. Comfortable with dealing out force and even death. Cast for acting, voice, type, some movement.

Daniel’s Father – 30s-50s, (cast a young person, place them in a wig and costume). A brief role, disapproving, aware of social classes and his own place. Cast for acting, type.

Ensemble – All belong on the island. All can dance very well. All can sing very well. All must do some acting, especially as a part of the narrative, convincingly.

SETS:

A unit set. An island with water lapping at its side. (Can be a lighting effect.) A bare stage with a few levels, perhaps a sandbar raised into a second level, a wooden staircase leading onto the stage from the heavens, a raised “hill” upon which the Gods cavort. Earth tones, everything is nature.

Locations and set changes must be done by the cast, and be small and creative. I saw one production cleverly use umbrellas with leaves and tree arms attacked when they were open, 4-5 of these made a tree, others left open were bushes and such. So a large tree (5 cast members stacked and holding umbrellas) could suddenly appear. Very fine.

This show begs for a highly creative approach. It begs for the use of common items the natives would have as story-telling aides, and “sets”. I’d go small and simple.

For the great ball inside the hotel, often a staircase (wide and impressive) is rolled in, and a chandelier could be dropped. You can do this if you want, of course, and it will work in the more traditional “Broadway” approach to sets. And it’s true, the hotel must feel “French” and European. Could this be done with a gobo throwing the light from a large stain glass window across the floor, fans lowered from the rafters made of palm leaves? It is a native fairy tale we’re hearing, and it comes from the minds of its tellers. So should the look.

A very creative assignment for an experienced Set Designer, one accustomed to digging into the “reality” or universe of the play he’s designing for his ideas.

COSTUMES:

You’re going to be busy. Whoever does wigs and head dresses will have their hands full, too.

Very important – your Gods will be among your strongest performers, and you will want them to appear in crowd scenes. I would not hide the fact that they are Gods slumming. Just dress them like everyone, with a hint of their power and their particular area of dominance. (Blue always for Agwe, for instance. Earth tones and a flower in her hair for the Earth Goddess. Death can be in black and silver, with a pale flower in his lapel, or something along those lines. Love can always wear beautiful gowns and wigs to change her appearance – she is all women.)

Peasants wear simple clothes in largely earth and natural tones. They are not rags, and can have flair and color. There are many photos of the people of the Caribbean, and some film available on the Internet. Get as much color in as makes sense. Do not let minor characters stand out too much.

Ti Moune must look simple and fragile next to almost everyone else. She is of sea and land, and her costume could suggest this somehow. When she makes her agreement with death, perhaps he could place a pale white flower in her hair, which remains there until he collects. Costuming can be largely symbolic as well as indicative of character.

The wealthy living in the hotel are generally pictured wearing unnaturally white clothing, a remnant of the French occupation, a reminder of their colonial years. French overcoats and hats and gloves, frills and lace, would be in order- but it must all be able to be thrown on top of existing costuming, and removed quickly.

Some of the costuming can be found in thrift stores, maybe closets. Most will need to be built if they are at all specialized. Some, like the God’s in their “natural” state, may be able to be rented.

Build and adjust costumes so the actors can dance and sing, which is just about all they will be doing! Ti Moune is often sort of simply and scantily clothed for this reason – so she’ll feel more like nature’s child, and so she can dance and her features and limbs be clearly seen.

A large job for an experienced costumer.

PROPS:

There’s likely to be many, with a list likely to change from production to production. Any time you can use something that the people telling this story would own, like a broom for a spear, a palm leaf for a European fan, that would be wonderful and interesting. Work closely with your Director.

LIGHTING:

Lightning and thunder, raging seas, this show is filled with primal forces that must be represented in lighting, sound and motion. You’ll need to work closely with the Director on how these are to be effected.

A great show for a hands-on, creative Lighting Designer. Isolation of actors all over the stage in sometimes mysterious or emotive light is a must. Grand, saturated colors and full-stage lighting will be needed for bigger numbers. A cold, dry, heartless white light for the hotel. Moods abound. The Lighting Designer has a big job with this show. Really needs a professional, if possible, one with experience with fantasy and Musicals. Stay away from follow spots.

MAKE-UP:

Can get creative with this show. The Gods can be partially masked, by the way, to some extent. That will make it easier to integrate them into ensemble (with or without masks), and eliminate the need to figure out how to make them up, and then loose their make-up when they become part of the human ensemble, and then add the make-up again…

Ti Moune should be artlessly made-up, no artifice, nothing visible. Andrea, conversely, can almost be a mask, pale, powdered, if you want to go that route. In this way, they can be seen as opposites.

Work closely with your Director. An interesting assignment, but not a difficult one.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, your Cast.

MY THOUGHTS:
It is unlikely that this show will fade away. Too many schools and small theater groups have discovered it. The story and music are unlikely to date much. It is a show that can build a powerful romantic and magical effect, for a minimal investment. I only question if it will receive the professional revivals that it deserves. As budgets go ever up, this show will beckon ever more loudly to thrifty Producers looking for a lot of bang for their buck.

Folks, this is a terrific show.  Audiences love it.  You will, too.