Based on My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, Once on This Island opened Off-Broadway in May 1990. It subsequently opened on Broadway on October 18, 1990 and closed on December 1, 1991. The show had a West End premiere in September 1994.
The original Broadway production was nominated for several Tony awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score, Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Direction and Best Choreography.
The original cast reunited with special guest, Lillias White to perform the show in concert for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights Aids.
Authors’ Note from the Libretto:
Re: Casting Amateur Productions
“ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is based on cultural, religious and racial divisions found in Haiti between the mulatto ruling class and the dark-skinned, rural peasants. Our original production in New York was strictly cast along these racial lines and the text makes reference in several places to skin color. We think the power of the story has a great deal to do with the issue of prejudice within the race, as well as with issues of wealth and class; we strongly hope that the casting of future companies will reflect our intent as far as possible. However, we understand the potential casting difficulties which may arise for some amateur theatre groups, as well as their desire, in some cases, to present interracial productions. To this end, we’ve supplied certain specific text alteration which might allow a greater flexibility in making casting choices, while still maintaining the core ideas of prejudice and the separation of people because of their differences.”
There is a ONCE ON THIS ISLAND Jr. version available for youth groups and schools interested in mounting the production. Several songs have been cut and others shortened in the interest of shortening the show.
In MTI’s junior version the following songs have been cut:
"The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes"
"Waiting for Life" (Reprise)
--and the following have been shortened:
"When We Are Wed"
In addition, some companies who elect to do the whole show have been known to add an intermission after “Mama Will Provide” or the “Waiting for Life - Reprise”.