Theater Review - Once (NY)

There’s a new endearingly organic musical in town that breaks all the rules. It is entitled “Once and it is based on a little Irish film of the same name. A lovely song from it, “Falling Slowly,” won the 2010 Oscar. This past fall it was such a hit at the New York Theater Workshop, it skipped happily to Broadway. I am so pleased to recommend this show to WMNR listeners, for it is not rock and roll; no one screams, no one yells. “Once”is filled with musicality and romance that is missing from most art forms today. There is a sense of folk idiom combined with a touch of modern melodies written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The Book by Enda Walsh, an Irish playwright living in London, is seamless.


Directed by John Tiffany, thirteen actors play musical instruments that make up the band. Among the instruments are violins, electric bass, cello, drums, mandolin and a cajon, which is a 5-sided Afro-Peruvian wooden drum. Instead of choreography, Steven Hogget is responsible for movement. With instruments in hand, the performers sweep and stomp across the floor, dramatically; even when they are sitting in plain wooden chairs at square wooden tables, their hands move in expressive ways. What gifts they have!


In the pre-show, all of the audience is invited up on stage where they can buy drinks from a curved immense bar. Antiqued mirrors line the walls and one large one reflects the action that takes place later. Natasha Katz’s lighting is warm and mellow creating a golden hue. Bob Crowley’s scenic and costume design, is essentially rustic. In a matter of minutes the cast joins those on stage and begins to play their music with passion and spirit, developing a real camaraderie between audience and performers.


Then the show actually begins. Guy, a singer and songwriter, played by the quietly sexy, dark-haired Steve Kazee, accompanies himself on a guitar singing the first song, “Leave.” This mournful tune tells the story of a love affair that failed; his girl friend has left for New York and he is lost. He is ready to throw his guitar away, when he meets the most adorable young woman, the Girl, who needs her vacuum cleaner fixed; did we add Guy helps in his father’s shop repairing vacuums? Cristin Milioti as the Czech Girl who is always serious is so appealing that he and we fall in love with her. Her delivery is searingly honest but never mean. The Girl, who is a pianist and composer, encourages Guy to work again. All the songs seem to arise naturally out of the action. In “North Strand,” “The Moon” and “Gold,” sung beautifully in the second act a capella, the Ensemble is outstanding.


The Girl has a young daughter, and a mother, strongly acted by Anne L. Nathan, who plays piano, accordion, tambourine and melodica; The Girl’s husband has left her, but as much as she cares for Guy, she insists that he join his former girlfriend in NY: certainly a moral stance in this day and age.


“Once”, with momentspoetic and humorous and sad, offers a fresh approach to the Broadway musical at the Bernard B Jacobs Theatre.

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