The Gods Be Praised! Reviewing the New Cast Recording of Once On This Island
I thought it would be impossible for Broadway Records to top the sensational job they did recording the Broadway revival of The Color Purple, an album that was so alive with energy and pristine clarity that it made its way to a Grammy Award win. Well, hold onto your hats because a new hurricane is blowing in the Caribbean with the new cast recording of Once On This Island, and the gods be praised: Broadway Records has outdone itself.
The original cast recording of Once On This Island that was released in 1990 by RCA Victor was a serviceable, if lackluster, preservation of the show. The sound quality of that album was uneven, lyrics sometimes unintelligible and melodies not as crisp or as gorgeous as they sounded in the theatre. Broadway Records has given us an album that is worthy of the show. Every lyric sparkles. Every word is clearly preserved. Every note is preserved with nuance and a delicious balance. This is the definitive album of Once On This Island, the recording we have been waiting for these twenty-eight years.
It is mostly impossible to single out any section or song on this album as better than the others, but I will venture to offer some of my personal favorites. Hailey Kilgore simply soars as the island girl Ti Moune, particularly when she lends her powerful belt to the “I want” song “Waiting for Life.” The always startlingly ethereal Lea Salonga (as Erzulie, the Goddess of Love) wraps her silky vocal cords around “The Human Heart”, taking the song to a place somewhere between the horizon and heaven. The lead in to “Mama Will Provide” is such a delightful cacophony of island sounds, unfolding into the musical’s most vibrant number led with gusto by Alex Newell (playing Asaka, Mother Earth). It all adds up to something divinely special and uniquely ensemble-driven: a chorus of storytellers telling is the amazing journey of a girl who goes in search of love.
It is not just the preservation of the music or the glorious performances that make this a must-have album. Broadway Records has seen to it that the packaging of Once On This Island is resplendent, a CD booklet that evokes both the spirit and celebratory nature of the show. A kaleidoscope of color, it looks like a poster for a Caribbean carnival, pastels popping and the lyrics floating over stunning production shots. The booklet is, in fact, 32 pages of pure bliss, guaranteed to tantalize and hypnotize.
Broadway Records never disappoints when they are preserving musicals for posterity. They are diligent keepers of the best of Broadway, waving a special magic wand over what is already pulsing with magic and augmenting it to where it sings to our hearts. The did it with The Visit, they did it with The Color Purple, they did it with Anastasia, and they have superseded all with Once On This Island.