Thursday, April 26, 2012


Once, at Broadway's Jacobs Theatre
Gratuitous Violins rating: **** out of ****

One of the reasons I love going to the theatre is that it gives me a chance to keep the outside world at bay. It's tough to lose myself completely but when it happens, I feel transported.

That once-in-awhile experience happened with the new musical Once, based on the movie of the same name that won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, for "Falling Slowly."

I've been wary of movie-to-musical adaptations but this one worked brilliantly for me. The story of an Irish street musician's chance encounter with a young Czech immigrant woman in Dublin was captivating. It felt dreamy and hilarious and poignant.

The set, designed by Bob Crowley, looks like a pub - there's a long wooden bar and old dusty mirrors lining the walls and a worn checkerboard floor. A band is playing and you can walk onstage before the show to get a drink. It's warm and cozy, the kind of place you'd go to quaff a pint on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

As "Guy" and "Girl" Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti complement each other perfectly. Kazee is reserved and introverted, still feeling the wound of his girlfriend's departure for New York City. Milioti is just a spark plug - lively and funny and determined. And they sing beautifully, too.

Their story unfolds in a way that's so leisurely it's really refreshing. It never lags but director John Tiffany has paced things so well. Once never feels like it's in a rush to get to the next song or dance number. It takes its time.

And the onstage musicians playing violin, acoustic guitar, cello, tambourine, mandolin and accordian give Once a great folk music sound. Most of the songs are by the Oscar-winning Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. But I especially loved an a cappella "Gold," written by Fergus O'Farrell. Gorgeous.

The book, by Irish playwright Enda Walsh, has a lot more humor than I remember from the movie. I loved the scenes in the apartment where Milioti's character lives with her fellow immigrants and at the bank where she and Kazee go, at her urging, to get a loan so that he can cut a record. Andy Taylor's bank manager, who's also a musician, is a hoot. I also appreciated how we get a sense, through Will Connolly's Andrej, of the difficulty in getting ahead in a new country.

Steven Hoggett is credited with the movement in Once and he did the same for Black Watch, also directed by Tiffany and one of the most visceral theatre experiences I've ever had. The choreography isn't flashy here but it was surprising and different, which made it delightful. And it never overpowered the story or felt out of place.

Once reminded me of another movie, The Commitments, based on the novel by Irish author Roddy Doyle, about a group of quirky Dublin musicians who form a band. The musical is a love story in a way, but it's also got that disparate characters coming together as a community vibe. It feels like you've entered their little world for 2 1/2 hours.

I can't think of the last time I've adored a new musical this much. Once is simply magical.


2SD (Two Show Days) said...

I love this review. And I love the show. I wish I could go see it every week.

Esther said...

Thanks! I feel the same way about Once. I love it much more than the movie. But maybe that's because I saw the movie on DVD and it's easy for your mind to wander at home. ;-) But also, the musical has kind of a dream-like quality that was so appealing. Like I said, I really did feel transported.

Kathy said...

Hi Esther,

I'm going to see this in May, and reading your review made me glad all over again that I have tickets! It sounds like just the kind of musical I will enjoy seeing in the middle of Wagner's Ring!

Esther said...

Hey Kathy, so glad you're going to see this! Yes, I think it will be a nice break. It's very understated and subtle and low-tech but lovely. Let me know what you think.

Kathy said...

I saw Once on Friday night. I was tired, and almost didn't go, and really thought about not even staying when I got to my seat. But when it started, Once won me over, and I decided to at least stay until intermission. And then I was having such a great time, I had to see the second act.

I would love to see it again if a small Boston theater decides to do it. What a lovely, gentle musical, and how wonderfully well it was done. I will keep my fingers crossed for the Tonys, although the winners, as we well know, are not always the best.

Esther said...

Thanks for reporting back Kathy! I know that feeling about being tired when you get to the theater but I'm glad you stayed and enjoyed it! Gentle is a great description and that's a nice change of pace from big, showy musicals. I'm hoping it picks up some Tonys, too! I'm sure eventually small theaters will do it, maybe Speakeasy or Lyric Stage.