Once is matchless.
I knew I was in store for something special when I walked into the theatre and saw members of the audience onstage strolling about. Others were lined up waiting their turns to do the same. An effort to achieve a “communal” feel, this creative decision became even more of a delight when cast members took center stage for a pre-show jam session. This surprise captivated those still touring the stage as well as everyone who had already taken their seats.
Based on the Academy Award-winning film of the same name, Once is delicate, raw, and intimate. In a Dublin bar, we meet the show’s male lead, who is known simply as Guy (Sam Cieri). Guy repairs vacuums, but more importantly, he’s a musician on the brink of giving up on his art entirely—that is until Girl (Mackenzie Lesser-Roy) overhears what he intended on being his last performance.
Girl is a serious type (she dryly jokes that this should come as no surprise since she’s Czech), and she’s pushy, but we immediately love her for it, and soon, so does he. She’s adamant about getting Guy to New York so that he can sing his tender songs to the woman they were written for and, with any luck, catch his big break. Not that he has a say in all of this, really. Girl means business.
It’s unfortunate that the word “unique” has become so overused in our culture because it should be reserved for productions like this one. Once is matchless, and let me tell you why I say that.
Firstly, it’s not your typical Broadway-style show. The cast’s 12 adult members remain onstage more or less for the entire duration of show, and they all play at least one instrument. No grouping of these individuals function as a traditional ensemble. The show’s director, John Tiffany, reflected a bit on this detail by stressing, “I didn’t want anyone onstage who we didn’t get to know intimately.”
The plot isn’t strictly advanced by the show’s musical numbers. They serve a more symbolic purpose than a storytelling one. The orchestrated scene transitions are some of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. The choreography is often simple, yet always skillful, like a strong gust of wind. The mood that permeates off the stage is heavy but hopeful, and there are so many elements aside from the music, acting, and choreography that add to this aura—for example, the exquisite lighting design. Natasha Katz’s lighting evokes an emotional response from viewers. It’s tender, dreamy, vulnerable, and warm. On a separate note of praise, the occasional necessity for language translation couldn’t have been executed better.
The interactions between Guy and Girl will leave you with a stomach full of butterflies as you witness the enormous impact they’re having on one another over a short series of days. Leads Cieri and Lesser-Roy are a darling duo. I could listen to them sing “Falling Slowly” for hours and hours on end. I suspect by show’s end, you’ll find yourself overcome by the hope that Cieri has plenty of other music circulating the web for your listening pleasure (because he is PHENOMENAL), and I’m happy to report that the answer is yes, he does! You can find his debut album here.
The only sad news that I have to share is that Once’s visit to St. Louis is a super short one! And on that note, I can’t stress this enough: Buy your ticket. | Megan Washausen
The two remaining performances of Once will take place at The Fabulous Fox Theatre on October 2, one at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. For ticket information, click here.