Chicago native lands in revival tour of 'Once On This Island'
Chicago native Jahmaul Bakare is making his national touring debut with "Once On This Island," the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical revival beginning a two-week run at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre starting Tuesday, Jan. 21.
But as a performer, Bakare is no stranger to traveling.
Bakare has performed aboard Celebrity Cruises ships, sung opera in New York and done lots of musical theater in Los Angeles. He even played Scar in "Festival of the Lion King" at Hong Kong Disneyland.
"I'll go wherever I can find work," Bakare said. "Whether it's singing or a straight play or TV."
Now Bakare is deploying his classically trained tenor voice for "Once On This Island." Inspired by Rosa Guy's novel "My Love, My Love," the musical has been described as a Caribbean variation on "The Little Mermaid."
"Once On This Island" follows an orphaned peasant girl named Ti Moune in the French Antilles. She is both helped and hindered by island gods in her romantic pursuit of a young man from a different background.
Bakare wanted to play the water god Agwe when he first saw director Michael Arden's critically acclaimed 2017 Broadway revival. Actor Quentin Earl Darrington, a 2010 Jeff Award winner for "Ragtime" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, awed Bakare with his take on Agwe.
"I was thoroughly entranced by all the subtle acting nuances and the control of his voice," said Bakare about Darrington's performance and his powerful rendition of the song "Rain." "But the whole show was infinitely beautiful and so artistic that I wanted to be a part of it."
Bakare admits to being extremely nervous during auditions last year for the tour. Director Arden was in the room for Bakare's first audition, and then show writers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens were present for his second.
"I had to remind myself that they're all human and that they're rooting for you to succeed," Bakare said. "I told myself to just have as much fun as I could and just sing."
He did, and now he's happy to be sharing Flaherty and Ahrens' 1990 musical across America with a cast that includes Broadway veteran Phillip Boykin ("Porgy and Bess") and "American Idol" alumna Tamyra Gray.
Though the tour lacks the live goat and chickens that were a featured element on Broadway, Bakare says it sticks close to Arden's intimate revival staging, which shows islanders coming together after a devastating hurricane. Though he didn't want to give too much away, Bakare confirmed that the tour features sand and some audience members onstage.
"The show is such a full circle of emotion," Bakare said. "I've seen audiences crying one minute and getting up to dance the next."
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"Once On This Island"
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Sunday, Jan. 26), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (also Wednesday, Jan. 29); from Jan. 21 to Feb. 2
Tickets: $21.50-$96; $158 premium seating