Show History



Following their Off-Broadway debut with the musical farce, Lucky Stiff, Ahrens and Flaherty knew they wanted to tackle something with greater emotional depth. Browsing for ideas, Ahrens stumbled upon the novel, My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, in a used bookstore. The book was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, and Ahrens responded instantly to the novel's poetic language and to the simple beauty of the story. Her writing partner and composer, Stephen Flaherty, was attracted to the novel's Caribbean setting, which would allow him to create a score that was theatrical, but inflected with the rhythms and sounds of the story's locale. Their long search was over.

In order to obtain the rights from Guy, the duo agreed to present the author with an outline and four song presentations that revealed their take on the material. It was a nerve-racking experience, especially since they intended to change the novel's ending completely. Thankfully, however, Guy loved it.


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; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, the story concerns a peasant girl on a tropical island who uses the power of love to bring together people of different social classes.

Once on This Island was originally staged Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, under the direction and choreography of Graciela Daniele, running from May 6, 1990, through May 27, 1990. The show then moved to Broadway, where it was again directed and choreographed by Daniele and opened at the Booth Theatre on October 18, 1990, before finally closing on December 1, 1991, after 469 performances and 19 previews. The musical featured LaChanze, Jerry Dixon, Andrea Frierson and Sheila Gibbs.

The European premiere of Once on This Island later took place in 1994, hosted by the Birmingham Rep, and then transferred to the West End Royalty Theatre (now the Peacock Theatre) on September 28,1994. It ran there for 145 performances and the production won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical .

The musical was revived in the UK in 2009 at Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse and the Hackney Empire Theatre in London. Susie McKenna directed, with Sharon D. Clarke reprising her 1994 role as Asaka.

Once on This Island has also become a favorite regionally, with productions having been mounted at such theatres as the Papermill Playhouse, The Olney Theatre, North Shore Music Theatre and the Marriott Theatre of Chicago.

Cultural Influence

  • Cast albums of Once on This Island were recorded by the Original Broadway Cast and the Original UK Cast and released in 1990 and 1997, respectively.
  • Once On This Island, led to the creation of Once On This Island JR. an author-approved, condensed version of the show custom-tailored to the needs of young people and schools.


  • In addition to winning an Olivier Award for Best New Musical , Once on This Island was nominated for an additional three Olivier Awards, a Drama Desk Award and eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score.
  • In 2002, the original Broadway cast was reunited with special guest, Lillias White, to perform the show for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund.
  • The original cast was chosen along racial lines, with darker-skinned actors portraying the peasants and lighter-skinned actors portraying the upper class landowners. In the script, the writers provide small line changes that can be used to remove references to skin color to accommodate.