Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, Once on This Island, “Rain”

Norm Lewis


Two of the most prolific and most honored creators of American musical theater in recent decades, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens have been collaborating since 1985. Among their best-known works are the musical Ragtime and the songs for the animated film Anastasia. They had written two shows, but nothing for Broadway, before Once on This Island, which opened at off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons before transferring successfully to Broadway in 1990. It later triumphed in London (winning the 1995 Olivier Award for Best Musical) and again in a Tony-winning Broadway revival in 2017. 

Rosa Guy, an American writer born in Trinidad, wrote the novel My Love, My Love: or the The Peasant Girl. on which Flaherty and Ahrens based the show. It takes place on an island in the Caribbean’s French Antilles, where peasants tell a little girl a riveting story to hold her attention as everyone on the island waits out a storm. That story includes several of their island’s deities, including the god of water, Agwe. In the story, he creates a storm that afflicts the island, creating a terrible flood  The gods, however, save the life of an orphan  girl, Ti Moune, whom a peasant couple then adopt. When she’s grown, she longs to live like the drivers of fast cars — the grands hommes — who live near her village. Erzilie, goddess of love, insists that the gods bestow love on her, since love is all-powerful. The god of death, Papa Ge, imposes a bet that would prove that death is stronger than love. In the exhilarating song “Rain,” Agwe, god of the water, conjures up a storm so that Daniel, one of the grands hommes, will crash his car. That will bring Ti Moune together with Daniel, whose life she then can save.

*Lyric debut

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Photos: Kyle Flubacker