The delightful, folksy Once is a Tony-winning Broadway musical with broader appeal to entertain those who are not fans of traditional Broadway shows. There are no tap shoes, jazz hands or razzle-dazzle. The music is more Mumford & Sons or Ed Sheeran than Andrew Lloyd Webber or Stephen Sondheim. More indie film than blockbuster as a play, it is also an enjoyable, low-key evening!
For those not familiar with Once, it started as a art-house film with a song, Falling Slowly, that won the Oscar in 2007 over three songs from Enchanted and a song from August Rush. The live show started off-Broadway but moved to the big time pretty quickly before it dominated the Tony Awards in 2012, winning eight including Best Musical. The Broadway soundtrack also won a Grammy. With all those trophies, it is easy to expect a spectacle, but attendees should really expect more of a pub concert and intimate evening.
The show is essentially a love story about a wanna-be musician and takes place primarily in a small Dublin bar, with an eclectic group of locals who all play instruments ranging from the usual guitar and piano to a mandolin, ukulele, accordion and others. In fact, before the show technically begins, the actors, who are also the musicians, play Irish standards in the pub setting. Audience members can wander up and purchase drinks from the onstage bar and watch the music from the stage.
As the play starts, you get to know “Guy,” an Irish songwriter (played by Stuart Ward) who works days fixing vacuums in his Da’s shop and his nights in pubs playing music. Smarting from a breakup, he is thinking of quitting music altogether when “Girl,” a Czech immigrant played by Dani de Waal, listens to him and refuses to let him abandon his dream. As luck would have it, she has a broken vacuum cleaner that Guy repairs, and she pays him in music on a piano. Over the course of a week, she convinces him to believe in his talent and his love for the woman who inspired the songs. They borrow money to record a demo album with the motley crew of bar friend. Their collaboration, friendship and potential attraction for each other help fuel the plot.
Since Once is about musicians, the show is more like a play with music and characters do not just burst into song or sing lines to each other. The songs are woven in as actual songs the musicians play and dialog is spoken, which is also sure to have broader appeal to those who are not fans of traditional Broadway shows or find movie musicals to be delightful.
While the potential love story and interaction between Guy and Girl drives the plotline, there are plenty of colorful and entertaining characters. They include some other Czech immigrants including her mother, an Irish bank manager and the surly owner of the town music store.
The score capitalizes on the Oscar-winning Falling Slowly, including it in the early minutes and reprising it completely near the end. Many of the other songs are enjoyable too. For example, Leave is a raw and gritty break-up song. Of course, there are the comical ones like Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy.
For Broadway fans or those who want to enjoy a delightful low-key musical with broader appeal, Once continues in Los Angeles at the Pantages until August 10, before heading south to San Diego then Costa Mesa for the rest of the month. From there, the national tour heads east with stops in Maryland, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Texas through yearend.
Opinion by Dyanne Weiss