Once | The Fox Theatre

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It is so easy to fall into the mood and atmosphere of this story, as delicate as Irish lace and even more fragile.

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The Fox Theatre lives up to its chosen sobriquet “fabulous” in this beautifully written and performed adaptation of the movie Once. It seems that in the recent past, adapting films into plays or musicals is a trend, rather than going the other way as was the custom in the last century. Most of the time this isn’t a very good idea, even if the shows are well received like Billy Elliott or The Addams Family, but sometimes a fine movie makes an even finer musical, such as The Producers. Once is one of the latter, and arguably the best in this mini-genre.

The sweet love story played out in the movie already has a lot of music in it because it is about a musician working as a busker in Dublin who falls in love with a young Czech woman. The film notably featured Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who wrote the music and lyrics, and improvised much of the dialogue, as well. However, the creative team behind the musical revamped the settings, rearranged the songs, and wrote the dialogue, so it is now the same show but different. Both entities maintain their integrity as art forms while merging to create a near-perfect stage musical.

The leads are called simply “Guy” (Stuart Ward) and “Girl” (Dani de Waal). The basic set is a bar, but some clever prop shifting by the cast creates several other locations, and it’s always easy to tell where we are: a piano makes a music shop where the owner Billy (Evan Harrington) allows the Girl to play during lunch hours because she can’t afford a piano. Bringing in a table and chairs creates the crowded apartment where she lives with her mother Barushka (Donna Garner), little daughter, Ivanka (Kolette Tetlow), and three male relatives. A vacuum cleaner represents the shop where the Guy works with his “Da” (Raymond Bokhour). Only a day in the country is played off the main set, and to represent it, the actors merely climb to a bare second level and our imaginations fill in the scenery.

The two fall in love the first time they meet, but there are complications on both sides due to other relationships. However, the Girl recognizes the Guy’s talent, even though he is ready to give up on music. She is determined to do whatever is needed to get him studio time and space to make a CD that can be marketed. One of the best scenes in the whole show is their attempt to get a loan from an uptight bank manager, whose weak spot the Girl zeroes in on: The money is secured, despite a deep recession in the Irish economy. A rowdy recording session later, the Guy has his album, but does he still have his Girl?

Just as in the Broadway production, a multiple Tony Award-winner including Best Play, the audience is invited onstage to have a drink and mingle with the cast, who begin an informal concert. All of them play one or more instruments and they stay in character. When it’s time for the show to start, there are no jarring announcements about cell phones or photos, just a soft rendition of “Leave” as the Guy emerges from the back of the pub. He is, at this point, bemoaning a lost love, but he isn’t prepared to meet the Girl. When he does, she invites him to the music store the following day and she plays a bit of Mendelsohn for him before he segues into the Academy Award-winning song “Falling Slowly.” It is a beautiful, heartrending love song in which the singer’s voice reflects the various emotions involved in creating a romance. Soon, her soft soprano joints his in perfect harmony.

A large mirror dominates the rear of the set and allows us to see that nobody here is faking it, especially in the clear view we have of de Waal’s hands on the piano. Most all of the hardest-working cast in show business right now is on the stage throughout, variously playing and singing quietly along, stepping into a role like the banker, the shop owner, her mother, his father, etc.,  or just observing, their silent witness creating another level of audience. It is so easy to fall into the mood and atmosphere of this story, as delicate as Irish lace and even more fragile. I did hear a few complaints about the dialects being hard to understand, but I didn’t find that to be the case. Even if you do, the songs tell the story from beginning to end. I hope you have the chance to immerse yourself in the best new musical to grace The Fabulous Fox in many a season. | Andrea Braun

Once runs at the Fox Theatre through April 20, 2014. You may contact fabulousfox.com.

 

Full cast and instruments: Raymond Bokhour (Mandolin); Dani de Waal (Piano); Matt DeAngelis (Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo, Drum Set, Percussion); John Steven Gardner (Piano, Guitar, Percussion, Melodica, Harmonica): Donna Garner (Accordion, Concertina); Evan Harrington (Guitar, Percussion Ukulele); Ryan Link (Guitar, Banjo); Benjamin Magnuson (Cello, Guitar); Alex Nee (Electric Bass, Ukulele, Guitar, Percussion): Erica Swindell (Violin, Percussion); Stuart Ward (Guitar); Claire Wellin (Violin).

Dance captain: Erica Swindell; Music captain: John Steven Gardner; Book: Enda Walsh; Scenic and costume design: Bob Crowley; Lighting design: Natasha Katz; Sound design: Clive Goodwin; Music supervision and orchestration: Martin Lowe; Movement: Steven Hoggett; Director: John Tiffany

Music and lyrics: Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova, based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney

 

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