Winner of 8 Tony awards, ONCE is the Broadway adaptation of the movie of the same name and follows the story of “Guy” (Stuart Ward), an Irish musician who is heartbroken after his girlfriend leaves him for New York. Guy is so stuck in his misery that he walks away from music, until he meets a Czech girl (Dani de Waal) who brings him back to life and helps him live up to his potential. Their meeting is not a typical boy meets girl story and what develops over the course of a week is an intense, but complicated romance played out through their mutual love of music.
I anticipated this show for months. I loved the movie and I especially loved the soundtrack. After the movie came out, I had the ONCE soundtrack in heavy rotation for at least a year. I was deep into my Irish folk music phase. It has been a while since I have listened to it, but I can close my eyes and hear Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova singing their souls out in perfect harmony. I went into the Tuesday opening of ONCE with a mixture of intense anticipation and a bit of skepticism that anyone would ever be able to recreate the raw emotion of the original.
Walking into the theater, the first thing you see is the pub. There is no curtain or usual stage. You see a real working pub you can walk right into and order a drink. Get to the show early and order a pint. The cast is up on stage. You can be up there too and see the beauty of the stage yourself. Just like a real Irish pub, everyone is welcome and warm…and before you know it there is music. There is no dimming of the lights, no raising of the curtain. Musicians start to jam and just like that, the show has started.
Much of the show’s genius is in the sheer beauty and simplicity of this set. While most of ONCE physically takes place in many locations, the entire show is performed with a beautiful mirror lined, dark wood stained Irish pub as the backdrop. The mirrors and the lighting, both brilliantly used, reinforce the mood of each scene. The set is intimate and raw and simple, and yet is such an important part of each scene.
The entire cast of ONCE is amazingly talented. There is no orchestra, no reliance on elaborate sets or props. The success of the show relies on the performers and they are talented! They stand before the audience and you cannot help but feel every word and note that comes out of them. Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal are fecking brilliant (as the Irish would say). They don’t just do justice to the original roles of “Guy” and “Girl”, they elevate the performances and do the original roles one better.
I loved the movie ONCE when it came out, but it was no good as a movie. This is the way the story was meant to be told. Simply stated, it was perfect.
The San Jose engagement of ONCE is presented by Broadway San Jose and is playing now through April 26th. Tickets are available at www.broadwaysanjose.com/once or at the box office located at the Center for Performing Arts (255 Almaden Blvd.) or by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787).