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Theater Review: "Once" On Broadway

Katie Buenneke |
June 6, 2012 | 9:27 p.m. PDT

Theater Editor

 Joan Marcus
Joan Marcus
Awash in gold, the heart-rending love story told in the musical "Once," now playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater on Broadway, is hauntingly beautiful. Based on the 2006 film of the same name (which won the Academy Award for Best Song for "Falling Slowly"), the musical tenderly explores the relationship between an unnamed man and woman as they make music together (literally) in Dublin.

The story centers on an Irish musician (Steve Kazee) whose girlfriend (Erikka Walsh) left him, and is now in America. Despondent and ready to give up music forever, he meets a Czech girl (Cristin Milioti) who eventually convinces him not to waste his incredible talent. Together, they set out to make him a demo CD which he can bring to record companies. In the process, they fall in love with each other, and learn more about the other's past.

Like many other musicals this season, "Once" is based on a movie, and a beloved one at that. As such, it takes a delicate hand to recreate the film's ambiance on stage convincingly, but director John Carney, his cast, and creative team, pulled it off. Kazee is utterly charming as "guy," and it is easy to root for him and Milioti's "girl" to end up together. While Milioti is not entirely winsome in the first act (it seems she may have been directed to be "bigger" for a larger space, following the show's transfer from the New York Theatre Workshop), she is downright breathtaking in the second act, and both have beautiful voices. The rest of the ensemble rounds out the cast quite well, creating a real world for these two to inhabit. "Once" is filled with a quiet kind of life, but it is all the more real for that.

The score, which almost entirely comes from the movie, is just as beautiful as ever, with Martin Lowe's orchestrations filling it out quite well. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the film's stars and composers, added in a few new songs, which slip seamlessly into the musical. Enda Walsh's book weaves the story together gracefully, a refreshing change in an otherwise lackluster season of musical books.

Also noteworthy are Clive Goodwin's sound design and Natasha Katz's lighting design—though the latter, while beautiful, is occasionally painful to witness, due to intense chiaroscuro. Bob Crowley's scenic design is minimal, but well-utilized by the production.

"Once" is a stunningly beautiful story, told with great artistry by all involved. More importantly, though, it has a lovely quality that is sadly missing from many of today's musicals: permanence. The show sticks with the audience, prompting many an interesting discussion after the play's end, and even some misty-eyed memories days later.

Reach Katie here, or follow her on Twitter @kelisabethb.

For 2012 Tony Awards coverage, click here.



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