Wisely Milioti has refused to see the film on which the show is based, which has left her free to create her own characterization that fans will note differs wildly from Irglova’s performance in the film.
It’s when Milioti finally sits at her piano and begins to sing that both she and Once take flight. The surprising strength of the emotions being expressed leave no room for irony, and we watch as her character moves from an outline to a human being.
It must be said that as the show progresses, playwright Walsh’s script veers unevenly from naturalism to his trademark heightened mayhem, which does not always serve the show. Most often the immigrants trying to make it in Celtic Tiger Dublin have their struggles played for laughs.
Will Connolly, who talents far outshine his minor role, plays a bright young Czech man who works in a burger joint but has dreams of a promotion. Walsh has given him an outsize purple bow tie to mock his dream rather than lament its failure.
There are some absolute clunkers too when Walsh has characters talk about love and all the misfortunes it can rain upon us. Walsh, whose most famous works indicate an antic consciousness, is never really at home with this kind of sincerity, and the script suffers whenever he has no choice but to acknowledge the undeniable potency of romantic love.
Paul Whitty plays the owner of the Dublin piano store where Girl practices, and the script also has him alternating between character and caricature.
Interestingly, it’s as if Walsh can’t see these workaday men as anything more than the rough drafts he’s crafted for them. But what his script lacks in characterization it makes up for in sheer comedy.
Walsh truly excels at upsetting your expectations, and it’s in these moments that his script really finds its feet.
What’s shocking about Once, from a Broadway perspective, is that it has an inconclusive, disappointing and completely heartbreaking ending that still somehow manages send you out into the city streets elated. That’s because it reaches deeper than many musicals ever dare to and for once the payoff is immense.
Once is playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street. Visit oncemusical.com for information.