TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Once”
Get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents…
The Oscar-winning indie romance, about a Dublin busker and a Czech immigrant making sweet music together, strums its way onto Broadway in a musical adaptation from edgy theater artists Enda Walsh (Penelope), John Tiffany (Black Watch) and Steven Hoggett (Peter and the Starcatcher).
“…feels as vital and surprising as the early spring that has crept up on Manhattan.” New York Times
“The show wins its standing ovations the old-fashioned way: with a love story, great songs, compelling characters and inventive stagecraft.” New York Post
“Once is a small-scale but warmly affecting show, crafted with profound respect for the power of music.” Hollywood Reporter
“The only major problem with the show…is that it overstretches its material.” Los Angeles Times
“In many ways, in fact, this Once is better than the original Once.” Associated Press
Mizer’s Two Cents (or in this case Two Bucks because I’ve got a lot to say):
Heart-stoppingly lovely. I could gush superlatives but a hard sell feels antithetical to the gentle beauty of this piece and the humble decency of the characters. In fact, has there ever been a “musical” that was so expertly aware of stillness, allowing moments to linger and draw the audience forward? (I use quotes only because calling it a musical doesn’t feel quite right to me. The show has more in common with a genre defying, highly theatrical piece like the recent play with music Brief Encounter.) Now, don’t take this to mean the show is dull; it also has boisterous humor, a theater enveloping production design and one or two foot stomping jigs to rock the house.
I could go on about many aspects of the show but a few things have to be mentioned. John Tiffany’s direction is inventive without being pretentious–just marvel at the way he orchestrates the energy of the opening 15 minutes to build to the release of the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly”. The movement by Steven Hoggett contains gestures (like a second act moment where characters step into unfinished embraces) that are so emotionally expressive you gasp. Enda Walsh expands the world of the screenplay beyond the central pair and heightens the romance without losing it to melodrama. Steve Kazee as “Guy” sings like a rock star dream and exudes a winning open-hearted masculinity (in fact, one of my few quibbles with the show is that he’s almost too attractive for the role–we should all have such problems.) And finally, Cristin Milioti’s “Girl” grows from first impression as one of those “too cute” sprite/muses of indie film to a woman of deeply felt contradiction and strength.
However, none of this would matter without the score by Hansard and Irglova, played wonderfully on stage by the musically adept cast. The songs in Once do not forward the plot in a traditional music theater sense; they ARE the plot. The story repeatedly requires the songs, sung in justified “realistic” situations like music stores and recording studios, to win characters over. That they do win people over, and we believe they do, is nothing less than a miracle. You believe “Boy” deserves a music career and the love of a special woman because his (their) songs are that good.
And, thanks to the artists who adapted Once for the stage, we believe in the magic of theater again because this show is THAT good.
[One final note: I'm curious how anyone unfamiliar with the songs responds to the show given how much weight they carry and how unusual they are in a Broadway musical context. I already loved Hansard and Irglova's work from CDs so there's a familiarity there that may have informed my response. I'd love to hear about your experience!]