Earlier today, producers Ken Davenport and Hunter Arnold announced that Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, Alex Newell, Merle Dandridge and Quentin Earl Darrington will join the cast of the new Broadway production of Once on This Island, which will play the Circle in the Square Theatre.
Newell is best known for playing the transgender student Unique Adams on the Fox musical series Glee. As a singer, Newell released tracks with Clean Bandit, Blonde and The Knocks. In 2016, he released his debut EP entitled POWER.
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, it is set in the French Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. The show includes elements of Romeo and Juliet sand elements of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Little Mermaid. It concerns a peasant girl on a tropical island, who uses the power of love to bring together people of different social classes.
In this story, four gods (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.
The original Broadway production ran from 1990 to 1991, and the West End production opened in 1994, where it won the 1995 Olivier Award for Best New Musical.
Dandridge will play Papa Ge, Salonga will play Erzulie, Darrington will play Agwe and Newell will play Asaka.
Agwe is traditionally played by a man, and Asaka is traditionally played be a woman. It’s a great opportunity for Newell, who’s powerful pipes will lend nicely to one of the best songs in the show (“Mama Will Provide”) that belongs to Asaka. These casting choices are a great step forward on Broadway for gender defying casting, and we’re excited to see the final result.
Director and Tony nominee Michael Arden said:
“In casting the Gods that inhabit our island, it became imperative for me to break expectations and stretch beyond the bounds in which Gods are traditionally represented. It felt important that young people watching our production see themselves reflected back from the stage at them. The Gods are simply that: Gods. They are not bound by gender, race, sexuality or being human at all. I’m so very pleased to be collaborating with these four artists exploring the important and timely themes of this musical through their unique and incredible abilities.”
The revival of the Olivier Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated Best Musical will be directed by Arden and choreographed by the critically-acclaimed Camille A. Brown. The production will begin preview performances on Thursday, November 9, 2017 and officially open on Sunday, December 3.