Upon entering the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre where the rapturous and romantic new musical ONCE has opened after transferring from its Off Broadway origins – The New York Theatre Workshop – you are immediately drawn into its world: a semi-circular pub in Dublin (simply designed by Bob Crowley with reflective mirrors and soft lights, a few chairs and a few tables) where you can go up on stage, join the cast and have a pre show pint of Guinness while they perform a sort of overture of authentic Irish songs and dances that lead to Guy (a fantastic, charming and handsome Steve Kazee) entering with his guitar to start one of the most original and heart-wrenching musicals to come our way in a very long time.
He begins to sing. Girl (a waiflike and brilliant dead pan wit, Cristin Milioti) enters. She is enthralled by his music, his looks and his voice – as you will be. She is direct. She is serious. She is Czech. She will have a profound effect on both Guy and us before the play is finished.
Their first duet “Falling Slowly” garnered an Academy Award for its writers: Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova who have written the score for ONCE with a very clever and emotional book by Edna Walsh (based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney).
Guy wants to give up his guitar and to never sing again. His girlfriend has left him. One really wonders why. All he has left is a CD of his music and his job as a Hoover repairman in his dad’s store. Girl needs her vacuum repaired. She also plays Mendelssohn (beautifully reflected in the upstage mirror) after saying “hello” to her piano.
She loves his music but there are no words. She can fix that. She writes lyrics. And so their fractured journey begins. Encouraging him all the way not to quit, she becomes, in a way, his agent as their relationship slowly develops and hits some bumps along the way. Getting a bank loan from a would-be musician/ banker (Andy Taylor) to pay for a recording pays off with “Abandoned in Bandon”.
She has a young child Ivanka (Mckayla Twiggs), a husband who is away and a spitfire of a mother (Baruska – Anne L. Nathan) who is very much present and a delight on stage.
Guy’s competition for the affections of Girl is Billy (Paul Whitty) part Spanish, part Irish, part crazy funny. The rest of the multi talented ensemble play various parts and they all play multiple instruments: harmonica, violin, guitar, banjo, ukulele, piano, accordion, cello and drums.
ONCE is magnificently directed with care and simplicity by John Tiffany. The choreography – here called “movement” is fantastic and Mr. Steven Hoggett is the person responsible for integrating dance and set changes so seamlessly into this modern day, bittersweet love story.
The score is heavy on ballads. Beautiful ballads. And there are some lively numbers: both Czeck and Irish inspired. The entire musical is inspired. To watch and to listen to. When Guy starts the first act finale “Gold” and then one by one the various instruments join in, it is breathtaking. Even more so is its “A capella” reprise in Act II.
You will fall under the spell of ONCE, once you have seen it. And will never forget the experience.
www.oncemusical.com Photo: Joan Marcus
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