Review – ONCE – New York City


Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre – 242 West 45th Street – New York, NY

About Once
The musical is based on the Irish film which became a surprise international hit in 2006, starring Glen Hansard (from Irish group The Frames and he also appeared in the movies The Commitments) and Markéta Irglová, a Czech musician. Hansard plays a struggling busker in Dublin, who is about to throw it all in when he meets a Czech immigrant, who reignites his passion for music with her talents as a singer and pianist. The film was shot on a shoestring budget over three weeks, using mostly friends and family and some of the actors’ homes – including Hansards flat. The movie was a huge hit, and went on to win an Oscar for Best Song (Falling Slowly).

Once on Broadway
In 2012, the movie was adapted for the stage by the celebrated Irish playwright and screenwriter, Enda Walsh and the award-winning UK theatre director John Tiffany. It opened off Broadway in 2011 and premiered on Broadway in March 2012 to rave reviews. It opened in Dublin in February 2013, then transferred to the Phoenix Theatre in London from April 2013 – Ronan Keating takes on the lead role from 1 November 2014.
The Broadway production won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and was also named Best Musical by the New York Drama Critics Circle, Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel Awards. Once is also the winner of the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

About the Show
Walking into the Bernard B. Jacob’s Theatre, it was a little strange to see people up on stage having a drink. Just like an Irish pub, musicians were playing, people were chatting and drinks were flowing. After grabbing a drink myself, it was ‘closing time’ at the bar, as the show was about to start, the crowd shifting off to their seats.
First act: Guy is obviously nursing a broken heart, after his ex-girlfriend moved to New York. They talk on the phone but he suspects she is seeing someone else. The song Leave, which he plays in the bar, is awash with torment and pain, but attracts the ears of our leading lady, Girl.
She coerces and bribes him to play more music, with the first of many magical moments when she rips some music that he had written out of his pocket, and convinces him to play it. They sing it together, and their lilting voices mesh perfectly, creating a song that you will find yourself singing for days, if not weeks afterwards. Other high points of the first act are Girl singing If You Want Me, Guy singing Gold, and for comedy value, the bank manager, (that Girl is trying to talk into providing a loan for Guy to record an album) singing, or trying to sing, Abandoned in Bandon.
Second act: After another drink break on the stage, we are taken along for the ride as Guy records his demo tracks, with the highlights being When Your Mind’s Made Up (Guy), The Hill (Girl) and the reprise of Falling Slowly. I won’t go into detail on the plot or what happens and whether Guy and Girl ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after, because that would ruin it for you. Suffice to say that I walked out of there feeling as if I had been to a great concert, feeling buoyant and happy, and humming that song all the way back to my hotel.

The Set
Just like an Irish pub, this clever yet basic set takes you from a bedroom to a lounge room to a music shop to a lookout, a Dublin street and a studio, effortlessly.

The Music
All 13 actors are brilliant musicians, playing piano, guitar, cello, violin, drums, ukulele, mandolin and accordion. The soundtrack has been highly awarded over the years. The blend of instruments and voices is rich and layered.

Once is on Broadway until January 4, 2015.

Contact details

Once in Australia
Once is now playing at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, featuring Tom Parsons as Guy and Madeleine Jones as Girl.

Helen Hayes & Sue Wallace
© The Finer Things