The tour of Once on This Island arrives at the Hershey Theatre this week and will be onstage through December 8, 2019. I am thrilled this musical is making a stop in Hershey because it is a wonderfully told story with a beautiful score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. It is a story that will touch the hearts of audiences. It is a story of love and hope, and with that message it makes a perfect show for the holiday season.
If you are unfamiliar with the story of Once on This Island, it tells the story of a young peasant girl, Ti Moune, who is bravely trying to find her place in the world. As she is guided by the Island gods, Ti Moune sets out on a journey to reunite with the person who has captured her heart.
I had the privilege to speak with Phillip Boykin who plays Tonton Julian in the touring cast of Once on This Island. Tonton Julian is Ti Moune’s adoptive father as well as a community leader on the island. He also played this role in the 2017 revival on Broadway. I adored his performance in the Broadway revival and I am ecstatic to see him in the touring company this week in Hershey. He spoke with me about his character Tonton Julian, the differences between the tour and the Broadway production, and how he decompresses between shows.
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me a little about Once on This Island in your own words?
Phillip Boykin: Once On This Island is a wonderful musical that shows resilience on an island that is hit by a terrible storm. Tonton and Mama find a young girl high in a tree after the storm and adopt her. As she grows up the mighty island gods send this young lady on a journey to find love and the man who captured her heart. For me personally, it is such a joy to be part of this show and play a character who is an adoptive father because I was an adopted child.
Kelli: Could you describe your character, Tonton Julian? Is there a characteristic of his that you admire?
Phillip: Tonton Julian is an adoptive father as well as a leader in his island community. He is always coordinating efforts in the community. He also loves to tell stories to the children and his fellow residents on the island. One of my favorite characteristics of his is how much he loves his daughter. In addition, he loves everyone he meets, and I am similar to him in that way.
One of the characteristics I admire about Tonton Julian is how open he is to adopting a child. I personally do not know where I would be without my adoptive father. I was 13 years old when I joined his youth theatre in South Carolina. Everything I learned from him is still very valuable to me. I love how open Tonton Julian is to adopt a child.
Kelli: Could you talk a little about being in the latest Broadway revival of Once On This Island and what it is like for you to play the same character on the tour. Are there any differences you notice between the Broadway show and the tour?
Phillip: One of the biggest differences for me is that on Broadway the show was set in the round and we could act in any direction because the audience was in a circle around us. On the tour I feel like I am suffering from “circleitis” because the show is now set on a proscenium stage, and at times I still suffer from this “circleitis.” I feel this production is at times the same and other times vastly different because of the proscenium staging. For me, the character of Tonton Julian is the same character, the difference now is that I had to relearn the staging and dancing because of the angle of the set. In the beginning it was like I was learning the staging for the first time.
The audience has been loving this show. They loved it on Broadway and people are loving the tour. It is such a beautiful story.
Kelli: How do you feel this show speaks to the times in which we live?
Philip: I think the story of Once On This Island is very appropriate and needed in the times in which we live. In the story of the musical there is a theme of devastation and race relations. In the world we live in we all are facing some sort of “life storm” such as a storm of gun violence, politics, race relations, etc. Each and every one of us are facing some sort of storm in our lives that make this show relatable. Storms happen in our lives, but if we can all come together, rebuild and clean up, then we can make the world a better place.
Kelli: Is there a part of the show you look forward to every night?
Phillip: Yes, all of it. The show is so beautiful and it gives me such joy to be part of the show. One of the greatest joys for me about being in this show is that we get to bring this story to people all over the United States. I have friends and fans who never had a chance to come to New York to see Once on This Island on Broadway, so now we have the opportunity to take this show to them. I am so happy to bring this show to people across the country and talk to people after the show. I love that I have the chance to inspire young people who want to pursue a career in this industry. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to continue to inspire others by helping tell the story of Once on This Island.
Kelli: Since you are on the road, how do you decompress between shows?
Phillip: I have a few different ways I like to decompress. Some days I just want to relax and nap between shows. On this tour I have been lucky because the hotels we have been staying in have kitchenettes and I love to cook. So, sometimes I cook and other days I like to try different restaurants in the cities we are in. Lastly, I love to go to the movies, so that is another way I decompress.
Kelli: Why, in your opinion, is live theatre important?
Phillip: One reason for me personally, is the opportunity to continue to inspire young artists. Another reason is that most of us do not have the opportunity to do what we love. For a few hours live theatre can take a person’s mind off their schedule and obligations, and open their mind to be uplifted. Live Arts is so important, it was important for me growing up and continues to be important to me to this day. We all can benefit from taking some time to sit in a theatre and give our mind a break from our worries and just sit back, relax and be entertained.
Phillip Boykin is currently on the tour of Once on This Island. The tour makes a stop at the Hershey Theatre this week and will be there through December 8, 2019. For more information and tickets please visit the Hershey Theatre website, www.hersheyentertainment.com/hershey-theatre. For more information about Once on This Island please visit www.onceonthisisland.com
Photos courtesy of onceonthisisland.com
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for theatresensation.com. She has maintained a love of the performing arts since a very early age and she is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.
One of my favorite Broadway memories is the long chat I had with Mr. Boykin after seeing the show in NYC. He was so gracious with his time and thoughtful and responsive in our conversation. What a great performer and gentleman. I hope to get to NewHaven in June.