Review: Once

2014-07-01 17.12.31Going to see new shows is all well and good, but when you have visitors in town, it’s generally best to go with something you know. I gave my cousins a choice of several shows, and was delighted when they selected Once, that lovely Irish Boy-Meets-Girl-Boy-Loses Girl musical. Here’s a show I don’t mind going back to.

The last time I saw Once, I was mostly blown away by how good the songs are. I know, I know, everyone else already knew that from the movie. What can I say? The songs affected me more onstage than they did in the film. I think it might have been the orchestrations, which (to my ears) give the numbers a fuller and richer sound. The other major pull of the show the first time I saw it: the choreography. I was seated up in the mezzanine, and Steven Hoggett’s  “movement” (as it is credited in the Playbill) gave the production a flow and grace that was simply lovely.

All that is still true, though I was in the orchestra this time around and felt more focused on the characters than the way they moved around the stage. Since I was so focused on the characters, the strengths of Enda Walsh’s book (adapted from the screenplay by John Carney) were especially noticeable. I loved the clever theatrical storytelling shortcuts, and the overtly emotional tone of the piece. One nitpick: We all know the songs (by the movie’s talented stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová) are very good. But it sometimes seems like half the show is taken up with complimenting itself on the music. The characters are perennially raving about Guy’s songs. I can’t think of any other musical that spends so much time informing you that this is Good Music.

Jessie Fisher was the new Girl, and I found her less aggressively quirky than the last Girl I’d seen. (This is a good thing.) Paul Alexander Nolan was the Guy, and he was rugged and handsome and winning and talented. (If I sound twitterpated, it’s just because I think I saw this actor once on the subway reading something literary, so I am particularly susceptible to his charms.) Basically, Once is still in very good shape.

I do wonder how people who love the movie respond to the show. Perhaps some of the low-budget charm is lost? For me, though, this is how you want a movie to be translated to the stage. So often when a movie is made into a musical, it comes off as a crass and commercial attempt to cash in on a successful franchise. Once is the counter example: when you see the stage production, it feels like the theater is the place where this piece always belonged.

My Grade: A
Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 minutes with intermission
Ticket price: $45 on TDF
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: Yes