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Stagecraft Podcast: Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty Return to ‘Once on This Island’ (Listen)

Stephen Flaherty wasn’t sure he had permission to write “Once on This Island.”

So says the Broadway composer in the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast, in a conversation with his songwriting partner Lynn Ahrens (“Anastasia,” “Ragtime”) about the new revival of their 1990 musical. The show is set on a Caribbean island, draws on the traditions of Afro-Caribbean music and stars a non-white cast — but it’s written by a pair of white American songwriters.

Cultural awareness of diversity and authenticity is at a much higher level than it was in 1990, but even then Flaherty was conflicted. “I struggled with it originally, when we were creating it,” he says in the podcast. “I wanted to make sure that I was the person to write this, and that I had the right tell this story.” He eventually decided he did, and explains why in the podcast.

The duo also discuss the ways in which the story, a fable about a star-crossed romance on a hurricane-wracked Caribbean island, has taken on new resonances in the wake of Hurricane Maria, as well as director Michael Arden’s found-object aesthetic for the in-the-round staging.

They also reminisce about the first time they wrote a song together. It was one of the final projects of the BMI Workshop for budding composers and lyricists — and Flaherty almost never got up the nerve to ask her to collaborate.

“He never even said hello to me, to be honest,” Ahrens recalls with a laugh. “He was so shy!”

The latest episode of Stagecraft is available now on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Soundcloud.

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