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Lea Salonga returns to Broadway in ‘Once on This Island’

/ 12:15 AM August 12, 2017

Lea cast as Erzulie

Filipino singer-actress Lea Salonga returns to the Great White Way in a revival of a popular musical.

She will be portraying Erzulie, the Goddess of Love, in a new production of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s 1990 play, “Once on This Island.”

“It always feels wonderful to be on Broadway, getting the opportunity to tell good stories with amazing music,” Salonga told the Inquirer.


In a statement, director Michael Arden explained that, in casting the Gods, he aimed “to break expectations.”

Salonga explained: “The story itself doesn’t really have much diversity, but Michael threw away the limits as far as casting the four gods. A woman will be playing Papa Ge, and a gay man will be Asaka.”

It is the first time that an Asian woman will be playing Erzulie in a production in the West, Salonga pointed out.

Joining Salonga are Merle Dandridge as Papa Ge or the Demon of Death, Quentin Earl Darrington as Agwe or the God of Water, and Alex Newell as Asaka or Mother of the Earth. Newell is best known as a cast member of the TV musical, “Glee.”

Salonga recounted that she didn’t have to audition for the part. “I just got hired [by Michael].”

It helps that they are familiar with each other’s work.

“I had seen the Deaf West production of ‘Spring Awakening,’ which Michael directed, and was incredibly impressed,” she recalled.

They also had the chance to share the stage in the “Ragtime” concert in 2013.


“That Michael has made the transition from actor to director is totally right,” she asserted. “He has inspired visions for this production, and I can’t wait to get started on it.”

She has yet to start prepping for the role, though.

“I haven’t even begun! However, I am hoping that I’m sent a score and script, so that before I head to New York, I can start the memorization process,” related Salonga.

But how does she see the goddess of amor?

“I haven’t figured her out yet, but I am thinking she’s a combination of many things. It’s time for me to get going on my research,” she remarked.

She caught a local staging of “Once on This Island” in 2005.

“The first time I saw this show was in Manila,” she recounted. “Actors Actors Inc. staged the musical—with Raki Vega as Ti Moune and Jeffrey Hidalgo as Daniel. The gods were Michael Williams as Agwe, Bituin Escalante as Asaka, Jett Pangan as Papa Ge, and Menchu Lauchengo-Yulo as Erzulie.”

The musical tells a pretty universal tale: star-crossed lovers torn by cruel circumstances.

“A poor peasant girl falls in love with a rich boy … this could very well be the plot of a teleserye,” she noted.
“In the end, the girl, after her death, turns into a tree that keeps the gilded gates of the rich from closing. If anything, it seems to be a metaphor for the gap between the rich and the poor, and how the two will not really meet.”

Previews start on Nov. 9, and the musical debuts on Dec. 3 at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

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TAGS: Broadway, Great White Way, Lea Salonga, Once on This Island
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