Once on This Island Reviews

Ola Ince’s revival of hit musical Once on This Island has officially opened at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and theatre reviews are coming in from the London critics.

This hit Olivier and Tony Award winning show boasts a book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy.

The cast includes Olivier Award nominated Gabrielle Brooks (Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical) as Ti Moune, Stephenson Ardern-Sodje (Hamilton) as Daniel, Courtney-Mae Briggs as Andrea, Jonathon Grant as Armand and US Agwe, Emilie Louise Israel as Erzulie, Chris Jarman as Tonton, Anelisa Lamola as Asaka, Natasha Magigi as Mama Euralie, Ashley Samuels as Agwe and Lejaun Sheppard as Papa Ge.

Photos: Once on This Island

Other cast include Bernadette Bangura, Hanna Dimtsu, Nay-Nay, Cassandra Lee, Cherece Richards, Mikel Sylvanus and Marco Titus. The role of Young Ti Moune is shared by Janai Bartlett, Lexi Kowlessar, Nesisa Mhindu, Kirsten Muzvuru, Nielle Springer and Olivia St Louis.

The creative team includes director Ola Ince, with Phil Bateman (Musical Supervisor), Niamh Gaffney (Associate Sound Designer), Jessica Hung Han Yun (Lighting Designer), Niquelle LaTouche (Associate Choreographer), Nick Lidster (Sound Designer), Georgia Lowe (Set Designer), Lindsay McAllister (Associate Director), Philip d’Orléans (Fight Director), Chris Poon (Musical Director), Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy (Choreographer), Melissa Simon-Hartman (Costume Designer), Jacob Sparrow (Casting Director), Annemette Verspeak (Voice & Text Director) and Ingrid Mackinnon (Season Associate – Intimacy Support).

Once on This Island is playing at the Open Air Theatre until 10 June 2023.

Read reviews including The Stage, The Times, The Guardian, TimeOut, and more.

Book tickets to Once on This Island at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London

Once On This Island reviews

The Evening Standard

"A Little Mermaid musical of real force and verve"

"There are many stirring performances in this revival of the show that puts a Caribbean spin on the story of The Little Mermaid"

"Goodness me, there are some powerful voices in Ola Ince’s striking revival of this 1990 Broadway musical, which puts a Caribbean spin on the story of The Little Mermaid"

"... it’s told in just 90 minutes with real force and verve. The long-running composing and writing partnership of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty has stripped the narrative back to basics here while packing the score with an array of belting anthems, insistent rhythms and sly wit."

"Among many stirring performances, Gabrielle Brooks – who played a knockout Rita Marley in Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical in the West End – once again proves herself a devastating emotional and vocal powerhouse in the lead role."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Guardian

"Stirring Little Mermaid musical in colonial Haiti"

"A young woman offers her life to save an unworthy aristocrat in a passionately sung fable of Caribbean history"

"A tragic tale rollicking with positive energy, the 1990 musical Once on This Island gives the Little Mermaid and its sacrificial heroine a twist of Romeo and Juliet’s star-crossed conflict. Ola Ince’s forceful new production identifies its Caribbean setting with Haiti – an implicit reminder of a fragile natural world."

"Ince’s fluid, forward-facing production confronts the story’s cruelty and channels some terrific choreography by Kenrick “H20” Sandy."

"The hole in the story is its unworthy hero... he can’t deserve Ti Moune’s extraordinary sacrifice. Yet Brooks’s propulsive performance makes this tale urgent and resonant. She gives every number big finale energy and her voracious, hurtling curiosity – eyes gleaming, braids flying – is always stirring."

David Jays, The Guardian
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"Ola Ince’s exuberant production does a fine job of papering over the cracks in this Caribbean-set musical curio"

"Let’s be honest, it now feels somewhat iffy that this was a subject white songwriting duo Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty decided they should explore... But 1990 was a very different time, and let’s not virtue police ‘Once On This Island’ into the ground when a series of Black creatives are making efforts to reclaim it"

"... the sung-through score is heartstoppingly lush, a joyous musical tide that runs through the night like a river of glowing sound."

"Ince’s production has a hyperreal vividness that matches the radiant surge of the tunes."

"There are some stupendous singing voices in the mix: Gabrielle Brooks gives the role of Ti Moune real heart and guts, while Anelisa Lamola’s powerhouse vocals as the goddess Asaka add a welcome fire to the chilly May night."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Stage

"Gabrielle Brooks radiates star quality"

"Sun-drenched atmosphere and stunning singing struggle to lend substance to this flimsy musical"

"... this Haiti-set musical, based on a 1985 novel by Trinidad-born US writer Rosa Guy, could scarcely sound better. In Ola Ince’s production, launching the season at London’s loveliest outdoor theatre, it is stunningly sung. And Gabrielle Brooks, in the lead role, radiates star quality."

"What a shame, then, that the show itself, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime), so rarely seems worthy of such talent."

"Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Niquelle LaTouche’s choreography is sheer elation, with its winding bodies and thumping, rhythmic feet, electrifying Flaherty’s pretty if bland calypso score. The entire ensemble is exemplary, generating enough heat and energy to keep proceedings afloat. But everything, from the characters to the plotting, feels surface-skimming; it leaves you intermittently beguiled, but longing for more depth."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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The Times

"A Caribbean Little Mermaid beguiles"

"Gabrielle Brooks is superb in the vocally demanding role of Ti Moune. The other characters and deities are skimpily written, but Stephenson Ardern-Sodje brings quiet charm to the part of self-centred Daniel."

"If this brisk, 90-minute show has a flaw it’s that much of the simple tale is told through the lyrics. Given the outdoor acoustics it’s possible to miss details. Still, the pastiche score — emphatically delivered by a supple, percussive band — is unfailingly melodic, the rhythms often closer to west Africa than the French Caribbean."

"On a chilly night, there was colour and passion in the air."

Clive Davis, The Times
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i News

"A confident Caribbean spin on The Little Mermaid"

"This is a vibrant if uneven opening production for a summer that promises many more alfresco cultural treats"

"The trouble with a show that is through-sung is that it can be too easy to lose key plot points in the musical numbers, especially if it is a narrative with whose contours we are not already familiar. Such a problem crops up intermittently in Ola Ince’s production of this story within a story, about a tale told to soothe a child’s nerves during a tropical storm."

"The tale is about orphan Ti Moune (Gabrielle Brooks), who is “waiting for life to begin”, as the charismatic Brooks informs us in her wonderful belt of a voice."

"The most cherishable moment sees the cast portraying birds, trees and breezes and chirping in tuneful accompaniment. This is a confident if uneven opening production and the summer promises many more alfresco cultural treats."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Observer

"Voodoo comes to Regent’s Park"

"The plot, told as a fairytale to a child, features a barter with the gods and a love story on a colonised island; the details are too tangled to follow."

"The characters are crudely divided between beaming villagers and bad people in suits. Gently percussive and balladic music (by Stephen Flaherty) occasionally charms but never startles."

"Gabrielle Brooks is a considerable singer who makes the vegetation tremble when she first belts out – but then has nowhere to go."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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The Financial Times

"Once On This Island... gets an exuberant, witty staging at the hands of talented director Ola Ince and her wonderful cast. It’s admirable, but not quite enough to disguise the limitations of the musical."

"Ince and designer Georgia Lowe bring mountains of invention to the piece. The gods hover around the action, spectacularly arrayed in lavish costumes and headdresses; fire and water scoot across the stage; the versatile cast play everything from street traders to birds in the trees to the trees themselves. The music, brilliantly played, and choreography would warm even the chilliest early summer evening and Gabrielle Brooks as Ti Moune is terrific and has a superb, soaring voice. But the storytelling remains skimpy, with thinly drawn characters and important themes and dilemmas insufficiently explored..."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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📷 Main photo: Once on This Island. Photo by Marc Brenner

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