|Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti|
You don't want to slide into the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre at 7:58 pm for this show; the pub set features real beer taps and the audience is invited to go on stage and buy a pint. Cast members are playing and singing, just like a Sunday night "session" in a Dublin pub.
The story unfolds gracefully after the house lights dim and the audience returns to its rightful place. Based on the 2006 film of the same name, Once is the story of a Dublin musician hurting over a girl that got away and a young Czech woman who inspires, goads and encourages him to play again.
|Cristin Milioti (center, at piano) and Steve Kazee (r) in Once|
Into his fog walks Girl (I'm not sure whether I like this dramatic convention; it always seems a bit precious), a small, thin, very intense young woman (Cristin Milioti) whose response to Guy's comment on her demeanor is - "I am always serious. I am Czech."
They seem like oil and water -- the laid-back Irishman and the emotional Eastern European -- but music links their souls. She plays piano, he guitar and they begin to connect. She brings a vacuum cleaner "that needs fixing" and of course it's not the only thing that needs fixing around there. But this love story, like life, isn't simple and he discovers that Girl lives with her daughter, and her mother, and that there is a husband back home.
Her unwavering commitment gives him the courage to seek a bank loan in order to make a recording of his music and the scene with the bank officer (Andy Taylor), also an amateur musician, is charmingly funny. David Patrick Kelly, as Guy's father, and Anne L. Nathan as Girl's mother, Baruska (how come other characters get names?) also make strong impressions. Playwright Enda Walsh's book makes a character like Girl endearing rather than annoying.
However, the reason Once won all those awards is that it expands the film's story into a brilliant piece of theater. All cast members play musical instruments and Steven Hoggett, the movement genius behind Black Watch and American Idiot, has choreographed stylized actions for scene changes and songs.
The songs by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, including the Academy Award-winning "Falling Slowly," forge a similar style, but these lyrical, soulful ballads explore depths of feeling without becoming tedious. Tony winner (and double nominee) Natasha Katz' lighting design casts a subtle atmosphere of gold and amber and Clive Goodwin's Tony-winning sound design strikes a balance between pub sound and theater sound.
Despite all the awards, not everyone cares for the show. A friend said she was bored; others think it moves too slowly. But I think it creates an unusual magic.