The musical “Once”, adapted to the stage by Edna Walsh and directed by John Tiffany, is based on the successful 2006 cult movie of the same name.
The show opened off Broadway at the New York Theater Workshop to great reviews. So good in fact, that the show is now poised to go to Broadway. The preview of “Once” begins on February 28th and the show officially opens at the Bernard B Jacobs Theater on March 18th.
To quickly summarize “Once”, the movie, it details the complex relationship that develops between a budding street musician (Glen Hansard) and a sweet Czech Immigrant flower vendor and singer-songwriter (Marketa Irglova) who meet on the streets of Dublin and compose music together.
Both Variety and the New York Times are in agreement on the show’s sublime music. A traditional orchestra is supplanted here by live musicians, including eight guitarists alongside a violin, viola, and voice. Only eight of the movie’s original 13 songs made the cut, in addition to new numbers.
Steven Suskin of Variety thoroughly enjoyed not only the Grammy-award winning “Falling Slowly” but also the selections of “Hill” and “If you want me”.
Ben Brantley, theater Reviewer of the New York Times, was quite moved by the show’s music. “The songs (written by Mr. Hansard and Ms. Irglova) soar with rough-edged, sweet-and-sad ambivalence that is seldom visited in contemporary American musicals”. Orchestrator/music supervisor Martin Lowe is responsible for masterfully translating the songs from movie to stage.”
The stage production of “Once” is impressive as well. Bob Crowley and Natasha Katz’s set includes an imposing Dublin ballroom that also serves as a bar during intermission and before the show when audience members are encouraged to mix with the cast. The stage is lined with 59 frosted mirrors to reflect the action and the night scenes result in a “dazzling night scape with some fiber optic sleight of hand” according to Suskin.
During the show, the cast deftly performs dance numbers choreographed by Steven Hoggett. According to Brantley, “(he) has a fractured individuality. Without overstating itself, it looks as weird as these people feel they are inside.” Suskin was impressed with the actors’ dancing and swaying in unison to the music played in the finale. Cellist included.
There were mixed reactions by the publications to the performances of the main characters or Guy and Girl played by Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti, respectively. Variety was quite impressed with Kazee as a capable leading man who is “likable and attractive but conveying the character's inner anguish when he sings.” Milioto also receives superb reviews for her portrayal of Girl in a “straightforward and blunt” fashion. She is so good in fact that the New Jerseyite can easily be confused for a Czech. The capable musicianship of both actors is noted as well.
The New York Times however, felt that the characters who were so natural and nuanced in the film, devolved into generic caricatures of themselves. Guy, for example, morphs into a “handsome leading man” from the shy and nebbish bloke in the film and the quiet yet strong Girl to “a kooky, life-affirming waif” who is meant to be irresistible.” Milioto also delivers very hammy lines about love and taking chances, including, “these songs need to be sung for you, for me, for anyone who has lost a love and still wants to love,” and “wasting your life because you’re frightened of it.”
The background characters, including the Martial art-loving piano store owner, the country-and-western bank loan aficionado, Girl’s mother, and her brothers, bring humor to the production. Stand outs include Claire Candela, David Patrick Kelly, Erikka Walsh, and J. Michael Zygo.
Variety sums up the play as being a “tender love story and the soaring songs that make "Once" a winner.” The New York Times finds the musical fun but rather shallow. “Unlike most musicals, “Once” is most at home in the depths; it’s on the surface that it feels out of its element.”
The only way to judge is to see the show for yourself. “Once” is currently running through January 15th at the New York Theater Workshop.
The Broadway Preview for the show begins on February 28th and officially opens on Broadway on March 18th.
Here are Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova performing “Falling Slowly” on “Letterman”:
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