An unexpectedly charming treat, Once wins over the audience early and never lets go until the bittersweet end.
Rock of Ages may provide in-seat drink orders, but a real, working bar on the set of a musical is really something new. Audience members can mosey on up for a beverage before the show and at interval, adding significantly to the friendly, relaxed feeling in the theatre. Pre-show even sees the cast join the punters on stage for a couple of warm-up songs. The improvised feel continues when the audience have returned to their seats and gradually, gently the show begins.
As in the 2006 film, Irish musician Guy (Steve Kazee) meets Czech musician Girl (Cristin Milioti) and so begins a tumultuous week or so as their unconventional love story plays out.
The full company of twelve play all the instruments throughout the show, which features music as an intrinsic part of the story. Further characters are introduced, creating an odd little extended family of sorts, all struggling to get ahead in working class Dublin. An amusing thread that links the characters is their interest in the Irish soap opera Fair City. A clever touch to cover the Czech characters’ speech is that instead of speaking in Czechoslovakian with English subtitles, the characters speak in English and the use of subtitles indicates when they are speaking in Czech.
The natural, affecting performances of Kazee and Milioti are crucial to the success of the production. Milioti’s deadpan, accented delivery provides many a laugh, her portrayal increasing from timid girl to strong woman when needed. Her gentle nature draws the audience to her, and her singing and piano skills are also impressive. Tall, dark and handsome Kazee is a great leading man, sincere and unaffected. Accompanying himself on the guitar as he sings, his musical skills make the story of Guy’s success completely convincing.
Music and lyrics by the films stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, has been retained and slightly augmented for the stage musical. “Falling Slowly” remains a highlight, with all the music being easily accessible and enjoyable on first listen.
Faintly reminiscent of the setting of Billy Elliot, scenic design by Bob Crowley sees all the action take place in the middle of the permanent pub set using a few chairs and tables along the way. Squares of light indicate various rooms when required. The one scene set above the pub, as Guy and Girl peer out over Dublin, is quite beautiful.
Director John Tiffany has banded the talented cast as a cohesive whole, creating an evening that is as appealing as it is moving. Movement by Steven Hoggett is used subtly to create extra interest and focus.
Characterized by a warmth and heart, which are often lacking in big overproduced extravaganzas, Once is sure to be cherished by theatregoers of all ages and interests.
Once has an open-ended run at Broadway’s Bernard B Jacobs Theater.
Reviewed 8pm Wednesday 18 April 2012 at Bernard B Jacobs Theater, NY.
Photos: 1: Joan Marcus; 2: Sara Krulwich