Details: Won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2012. The playbill for the original Broadway cast can be found at http://www.playbill.com/production/once-bernard-b-jacobs-theatre-vault-0000013862. The official site is http://oncemusical.com/
Many shows are mostly dramas or comedies with romance thrown in on the side. Once is not one of them. Once is undoubtedly a romance first and foremost. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet, simple, yet stylistic story about love found, love lost, and how music can weave those feelings together.
Once is based on a movie of the same name. It takes place in Dublin, Ireland and centers on a Irish man and a Czechoslovakian woman. I’d like to name these characters but the playbill literally lists the characters’ names as “guy” and “girl.” Both characters are seemingly apart from their significant others and live in a place of loneliness. After a chance encounter, the woman decides to help the man chase his dreams and start his career in music. As they pursue this far-fetched dream, the two learn more about music, about life, and about how they truly feel about each other.
If I attempted to describe the style of music, it would be contemporary Irish folk music. Think banjos, violins, stomping your feet and slapping wooden surfaces. Not a kind of music that I’ve seen used often, if ever, on Broadway.
The songs are mostly slow ballads with some more upbeat folk songs. They’re all about love and all help express the feelings of love and loss that repeatedly surface through the plot. Every time a song came up in the show, I could feel myself choking up a little due to the context of what the song was trying to convey. That almost never happens to me when it comes to musicals, but it did here.
Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti have great chemistry with one another and I loved their pure sounding take on the music. I’ve seen clips subsequently of other actors playing their roles and I don’t like it as much as the performers add and embellish more onto the music. This is a show where the themes in the story and music are to be pure and honest with oneself, to strip away the excess and Kazee’s and Milioti’s performances do that wonderfully.
Also worth mentioning is the way they handled a change in scenes. Often times, a show at the theater will just fade to black. Sometimes they use a more creative method to change scenes. Here, they brought out the band and performed a musical number. Despite breaking the immersion of the show for me, I enjoyed this method of changing scenes as it kept me invested in the music and helped give me a break from the heaviness of some of the scenes.
Overall, I really enjoyed Once. I normally don’t like shows or movies that are pure romance, but Once worked for me. You probably won’t find Kazee or Milioti reprising their roles ever again, but the material is strong enough to stand on its own. The music, while beautiful, also isn’t of the variety that requires a singer with huge talent and an extraordinary range. If you get a chance to watch a performance, you should take that chance and enjoy a romantic, cute, bittersweet tale.