Music/Lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
An exquisite crescendo
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Two weeks ago, I assisted a good friend with her monthly “Art for Charity” variety show (this one benefited earthquake survivors in Nepal). Halfway through the performance, the emcee announced that two audience members – a violinist and a cellist – had asked if they could contribute with an impromptu duet. I stood in the makeshift backstage area of this Lincoln Park bar and watched audience members’ awed faces as the women executed a lovely version of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” and then, by audience request, the theme song from Game of Thrones. None of this was planned, and all of it was delightful. I felt myself break into a smile as I witnessed the power of art and music. Last night, I got the same feeling from Once. The touring production of the Tony Award-winning show, lovingly adapted from the quiet 2007 film, is a testament to the universal language of music and its power to unite us all.
In present-day Dublin, guitarist Guy (Alex Nee) lives with his father (Scott Waara) above their vacuum repair shop and nurses a broken heart courtesy of a woman now living in New York. A chance meeting with Girl (Dani de Waal), a Czech immigrant with a gift for tickling the ivories, results in a whirlwind five days that includes an open mic night, a 24-hour recording session, and connection with everyone from a grumpy music store owner (Evan Harrington), Girl’s cadre of family and roommates, and a vocally challenged loan officer (Benjamin Magnuson). Throughout, Guy and Girl explore their own tenuous relationship, as delicate as a minor chord but just as strong.
When I first found out that Once was to be adapted for the stage, I worried that the film I loved so much – and whose stars I later saw in concert – would be blown out of proportion with dumb songs and over-the-top moments, a sharp contrast to the movie’s quiet, beautiful love story accompanied by a powerful folk rock soundtrack. Hearing rave reviews from friends who saw the Broadway run and first national tour helped some, but I remained skeptical until now. Once isn’t quite a musical. It isn’t quite a concert or a play either. Once is like nothing I’ve ever seen: part rock show, part meditation, part movement of voices and bodies. Bob Crowley’s set design is basic but potent: a bar (which the audience can visit before the show and at intermission) where the actor-musicians congregate, moving various props to convey a music store, a recording studio, and a coffeehouse. Every note of Martin Lowe’s orchestrations – beautifully realized right in front of your eyes – and every aspect of Steven Hoggett’s movement is deliberate, carefully constructed to convey utmost emotion.
Each cast member also plays at least one musical instrument, and most play several. Rather than feeling gimmicky, it’s a natural extension of the story and each actor-musician speaks, sings, plays and moves with a reverence not often seen in Broadway musicals. Enda Walsh’s book has the same sense of naturalism as the film, and the characters actually sound like humans in all their awkward, funny and heartbreaking glory. Lowe has adapted Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s gorgeous songs with a fullness that carries through the theater, tugging audience heartstrings without ever feeling manipulative. Finding a standout in such a brilliant ensemble is difficult, though de Waal’s sweet yet sad Girl edges to the front of the pack. Whether she’s harmonizing with Guy, holding her young daughter or fighting her heart, de Waal never annoys and always captivates.
Watching Once is akin to seeing a moving, breathing, singing portrait of a life in which the ordinary becomes extraordinary. I was amazed, saddened, and uplifted – sometimes all at once. Sometimes I’m unsure about the state of modern musical theater and annoyed when subpar product generates huge revenue. Then I see a high-quality, intricate and heart-wrenching show like Once, and am optimistic once again.
Once continues through June 7th at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map), with performances Thursday and Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday 2pm and 7:30pm, Sunday 2pm. Tickets are $30-$95, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayInChicago.com or OnceMusical.com. (Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Joan Marcus
Stuart Ward (Guy – Guitar), Dani de Waal (Girl – Piano), Sarah McKinley Austin (Ivanka), Matt DeAngelis (Švec – Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo, Drum Set, Percussion), John Steven Gardner (Eamon – Piano, Guitar, Percussion, Melodica, Harmonica, Music Captain), Evan Harrington (Billy – Guitar, Percussion, Ukulele), Ryan Link (Emcee – Guitar, Banjo), Zander Meisner (Emcee – Guitar, Banjo [6/5-6/7] / Andrej – Electric Bass, Ukulele, Guitar, Percussion [6/2/6/4]), Benjamin Magnuson (Bank Manager – Cello, Guitar), Alex Nee (Andrej – Electric Bass, Ukulele, Guitar, Percussion), Erica Spyres (Ex-Girlfriend – Violin, Percussion), Tina Stafford (Baruška – Accordion, Concertina), Erica Swindell (Réza – Violin/Dance Captain), Scott Waara (Dad – Mandolin)
behind the scenes
John Tiffany (director), Steven Hoggett (movement), Martin Lowe (music supervisor, orchestrations, additional material), Bob Crowley (scenic design, costume design) Natasha Katz (lighting design), Clive Goodwin (sound design), Stephen Gabis (dialect coach), Jim Carnahan (casting), Shaun Peknic (associate director), Yasmine Lee (associate movement), Fred Lassen (resident music supervisor), Paul Dobie (asst. director), Katie Spelman (asst. movement), Frank McCullough (asst. scenic designer), Peter Hoerburger (asst. lighting design), Alex Hawthorn (asst. sound design), Aurora Productions (production management), Daniel S. Rosokoff (production stage manager), Aaron Elgart (stage manager), Aaron Elgart (stage manager), Trisha Henson (asst. stage manager), Allied Live (marketing and press), Chris Danner (company manager), Candace Hemphill (asst. company manager), Lisa M. Poyer (general manager), Barbara Broccoli, John N. Hart Jr., Patrick Milling Smith,, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G. Wilson, Orin Wolf Productions, Robert Cole, NYTW (producers), Joan Marcus (photos)