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Entertainment & Arts

Coronavirus closes ‘Once on This Island,’ the first Broadway tour to end early

“Once on This Island,” with Kyle Ramar Freeman, left, and Courtnee Carter, is the first national Broadway tour to end because of the coronavirus.
“Once on This Island,” with Kyle Ramar Freeman, left, and Courtnee Carter, is the first national Broadway tour to end because of the coronavirus.
(Joan Marcus)

The traveling production of “Once on This Island” has wrapped its scheduled run four months early, making it the first Broadway national tour to close prematurely because of the coronavirus.

Michael Arden, who received his second Tony Award nomination for directing the acclaimed revival, announced the news on Saturday via Instagram.

“It’s a great loss for so many, but I am deeply proud of everyone who came together to make this production happen from day one, who lifted their voices, paintbrushes, hands and hearts to spread the word of love and forgiveness and celebrated the human spirit’s resilience against even the greatest of odds.”

“Thank you to the audiences who came to see us all over the U.S.,” Arden continued in his post. “You are why we tell the story. The storm will end.”

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The tour was next set to stop in Los Angeles for a monthlong run at the Ahmanson Theatre beginning April 7. As of Friday, Center Theatre Group had informed patrons that the venue was “exploring all options” for the production, “including the possibility of rescheduling” — a plan of action other national tours have taken for the time being.

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Center Theatre Group told The Times on Monday that it is “looking at all options including the possibility of joining with other theaters to remount this production.” The company is asking ticket-holders to hold off asking for refunds.

“We have been looking forward to this engagement for a very long time and are hopeful that we are able to secure a future for this show,” read a company statement.

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The Tony-winning musical revival centers on Ti Moune, a fearless orphan girl who saves the life of a wealthy boy from the other side of the island and falls in love. The mighty island gods, however, make her a pawn in their cosmic bet as to whether love is greater than death.

Michael Arden
Michael Arden, photographed in 2016, earned his second Tony nomination for directing “Once on This Island” on Broadway.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times )

The original 1990 musical is loosely based on Rosa Guy’s Caribbean-flavored novel “My Love, My Love,” which in turn is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic “The Little Mermaid.”

But the 2017 Broadway production of “Once on This Island” was gritty, guttural and grounded, raising the stakes of the story by presenting it without much embellishment. With few scenic set pieces or props, the major visual element of the show was Dane Laffrey’s transportive set design, which was inspired by the aftermath of a 2016 hurricane in Haiti and included a jack-knifed 18-wheeler and a fallen telephone pole.

L.A. theatergoers were going to experience a special take on the tour, with scenic pieces built out beyond the proscenium. “We wanted to put clotheslines out in the audience, and some broken architecture to make it look like the Ahmanson had been through something as well,” Arden told The Times.

The ruins, which included real sand and water, were the setting for Stephen Flaherty’s invigorating rhythms and Camille A. Brown’s vibrant, euphoric choreography — rich signatures of Ti Moune’s poorer side of the island, whose residents dance without any shoes or shame.

Once on This Island
Courtnee Carter as Ti Moune leads an exuberant dance number in “Once on This Island.”
(Joan Marcus)

This onstage combination illustrated the takeaway of Lynn Ahrens’ poetic book and lyrics: that such joy can exist amid devastation, and though there may be great losses to mourn, there always will be so much in this life to celebrate.

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The tour, which hit the road in October, was scheduled to also play in Seattle; New Brunswick, N.J.; Pittsburgh; Midland, Mich.; and New Haven, Conn., before wrapping its run in Washington, D.C., in July. However, the final performance was March 14 at the Smith Center in Las Vegas.

“It’s a shame that this particular show is closing, because I think that this is going to be what people need to see once we’re able to go outside again,” Arden told The Times. “It has this kind of defiance in its joy and heart.

“But since we can’t do this show for you in a theater right now, close your eyes, listen to the music, and go on Ti Moune’s journey,” he said in reference to the cast recording. “It might make what we’re going through right now seem a little bit easier, and you might feel a little bit less alone.”

Lauren Gunderson gets thousands to tune in to her free playwriting class. “Straight White Men” writer Young Jean Lee leads her free class this weekend.


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