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'Once on This Island' comes to ASU Gammage with striking set design and sand-filled stage

The environment displays the aftermath of a terrible storm — strewn clothes, trash and items turned into something new. Photo by Alexis Alabado

March 05, 2020

Never before has a Broadway show come to ASU Gammage with a set quite like the one from “Once on This Island.” For Tamyra Gray, who plays god of death Papa Ge, being part of the show means playing on a big jungle gym every performance.

“It’s like I get to play on the monkey bars every day,” Gray said.

Set in the French Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, the environment displays the aftermath of a terrible storm — strewn clothes, trash and items turned into something new.

Nearly 2,000 pounds of crystallized sand are used in the weeklong engagement, along with real fire torches and lit candles, an onstage pool containing approximately 350 gallons of water and an onstage rain effect. A live band is also weaved through the nooks and crannies of the set. All of these elements come together for a unique island viewing experience.

To make things even more immersive, audience members have the opportunity to purchase onstage seating where the cast welcomes them as tourists on the island. 

A fallen-over power pole carries a collection of memories and photos of loved ones that have passed on from the cast and crew members, providing a representation of what family means to the community of this island.

Gray has memories of her grandmother and great-grandfather plastered to the pole.

“It’s a reflective moment for us to come out and pay homage to them before the show begins so that we stay in the spirit of what the show is,” Gray said. “Of the resilience, of knowing that family is what helps us get through, community is what helps us rebuild and remembering where we’re from gives us the strength that we need to persevere through the hard times of life.”

“Once on This Island” is the sweeping, universal tale of Ti Moune, a fearless peasant girl in search of her place in the world who is ready to risk everything for love. Guided by the mighty island gods, Ti Moune sets out on a remarkable journey to reunite with the man who has captured her heart.

Performances for “Once on This Island” run every day until March 8 at ASU Gammage. Seating is still available online.

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