Welcome to the Island: ‘Once On This Island’ celebrates Filipino night

NEW YORK — The most ravishing island on Broadway welcomed Fil-Ams into their world, at “Filipino night” for the hit musical revival Once On This Island. 

Mother of the earth played by Alex Newell, Norm Lewis as God of Water and Tony-winner Lea Salonga as the goddess of love got off the island to chat with kababayan mortals.

Salonga, who has played the roles of Vietnamese and French prostitutes as well as Eponine, for the first time got to portray a Filipina on the Great White Way.

But how do you justify the presence of a Filipina on this Caribbean island?

The production team turned her character, Erzulie goddess of Love, into a Filipina nurse.

“So that’s the badge I wear every night, when I’m on the sand, so it means a lot to me as a Filipino finally getting to play a Fiipino on the stage or on the sand, in a show that I love, where everybody on stage, everybody on the band is a person of color.”

The original 1990 cast was chosen along racial lines with darker-skinned actors portraying the peasants, and lighter-skinned actors portraying the upper-class landowners.

Small line changes to remove references to skin color in the revival version made it possible to accommodate gender and race-bending casting of the gods in this 2018 production.

“Papa Ge is a woman, understudy by men, interestingly enough, Asaka is being played by man, so there’s that,” said Salonga. “Erzulie, traditionally played by the right gender but the wrong ethnic background, the reasoning is why should we limit who the Gods are?”

Salonga will be playing Erzulie on Once On This Island until she takes a break to leave for the Philippines in July.

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