Saturday, April 7, 2012
Once, a New Musical at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
The 2006 Irish film Once was a low budget gentle love story that loosely based upon the lives of the two musicians who were its stars. Adapted for the stage using clever, innovative staging, Once, a new musical is a charming adaptation of this beloved indie film classic.
Using the same conceit as the film by not naming the two main characters, Once is the story of Guy, a struggling, heartbroken Irish musician who meets the Girl, a young brash Czech immigrant. Encouraged by her to pursue his music, their romance takes place over several days as they collaborate creating stunningly beautiful music together. Their personal lives do not permit them from going beyond admitting that they have fallen in love. Yet, their brief encounter enriches their lives and those of the friends and collaborators who get caught up in the creation of the music.
Playwright Enda Walsh has shaped the original film into a heartfelt stage adaptation. John Tiffany directs his small ensemble in a way that brings forth the charms of the film without getting too precious with the story or the performances.
At the heart of Once is the music. The film had a great score written by its stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It includes the Academy-award winning song, Falling Slowly. One of the strengths of the musical is that the majority of its score comes from that film. The music is performed by the actors in a way that is organic to the story. This is not a gimmick like the recent adaptions of Sweeney Todd and Company. Here, since a majority of the acting company must play instruments as a part of their characters, the actors as orchestra conceit works brilliantly.
The musical is staged within Bob Crowley's designed Irish pub backdrop. Audience members are welcome to come up on stage before the show and during intermission to purchase drinks at the bar and, prior to the show, be enveloped in an old-fashioned jam session. Please note, this is becoming very popular and you may be asked to wait until the stage clears of a few fellow patrons before you are permitted to go up on the stage.
Another good decision was to project Czech language surtitles on the set whenever the Czech characters are speaking. By allowing the actors to speak in English with those surtitles instead of the reverse it simply allows the audiences to acknowledge that the characters are speaking a foreign language without being distracted from the performance by having to read in English what they are saying.
The actors are wonderful. At first, the secondary characters do not appear to be well-fleshed out, yet by the time that the story flows to the creation of the music, individuals make their small roles real human beings. Performances of note are given by David Abeles as Eamon, Elizabeth A. Davis as Reza, Lucas Papaelias as Svec, Andy Taylor as the Bank Manager and Paul Whitty as Billy.
Cristin Milioti is forceful as the honest and abrupt Girl. She has a voice with the lilt of heartbreak and grit of emotion. Yet, physically she makes herself muted, cutting herself from fully embracing her feelings with Guy knowing that her personal life makes falling in love difficult.
Unfortunately Steve Kazee was absent attending to a family emergency the night I saw this production. I would just like to say to my fellow theater patrons, when the lead is not present give the understudy a chance. Ben Hope officially made his Broadway debut as Guy. While in the beginning he was not quite convincing as a struggling musician on the verge of giving up music in his life, as the performance went on Mr. Hope relaxed into the role and his Guy became a young man transformed musically and emotionally by his growing love for Girl. Mr. Hope has a wonderful voice and good stage presence. I hope to see more of him on stage in the future.
Once, a new musical is being performed at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City. For tickets and other performance information, please visit www.telecharge.com.