Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ONCE • The Fox

After an off-Broadway run in 2011, “Once” opened on Broadway the next year, snagging eight Tony awards. Based on the 2006 film bearing the same title, the song "Falling Slowly" also won an Oscar for Best Original Song.

 Right off the bat, as the audience files into the Fox, there's already an Irish-flavored party happening onstage, where you are welcomed to go up to the onstage bar and get a drink before the show starts. The house lights are up during this pre-show jam session, and they stay up well into the prologue. Every member of the ensemble here is a musician -- really talented ones at that, functioning as the show’s orchestra as well as its cast of characters.

Stuart Ward (Guy) and Dani de Waal (Girl).
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Guy (Stuart Ward) is a brooding Dublin musician who also works at his father's shop repairing vacuum cleaners. He's ready to walk out on his musical ambitions, still mourning the loss of his relationship with a girl who's moved to New York. Dani de Waal plays Girl, a plucky Czech pianist who has been listening to Guy, and after a brief introduction, she's convinced not only that Guy is quite talented, but that if he played these songs for his ex, she'd be sure to take him back. She then claims to have a Hoover that "doesn't suck", and says if he'll fix it for her she'll pay him back with music at the piano store where she works. The emotional center of Guy's songs start to shift once Girl convinces him to make a demo tape and follow his dreams to New York City. Though the attraction between them is apparent, Guy and Girl have complicated histories that derail what would presumably be a "happily ever after" ending.

Ensemble of "Once"
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Having never seen the film, I was expecting a romantic comedy -- a genre that admittedly isn't a favorite of mine, but this musical disarmed me with its unique staging and music. Just when Guy's angst or Girl's thickly accented (but charming) advice about following your dreams threatens to become overly sentimental, the true nature of the characters come through in the songs, with Ward's powerful vocals and de Waal's haunting delivery, and are made more powerful by the show's inconspicuous choreography that brings those inner conflicts out in nuanced movement.

Donna Garner (Baruška), Alex Nee (Andrej),
Dani de Waal (Girl), Claire Wellin (Réza)
and Matt DeAngelis (Švec).
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
With brisk direction by John Tiffany, the talents of Ward, de Waal and the musicianship and vocal talent of the ensemble is impressive. The story plays out on Bob Crowley's set of an Irish pub with dark wood and mirrored surfaces set off with small lights. Subtle shifts in Natasha Katz's lighting design designate different locations along with the addition of small set pieces that are moved on and off, and Clive Goodwin's sound design maintains a beautiful acoustic sound that adds to the show. I love it when I'm completely caught off-guard by a show, and this one did it. Only a few more days to check this one out. See it!


Music/lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Book by Enda Walsh
Based on the film Oncewritten and directed by John Carney
Directed by John Tiffany
Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
through April 20 | tickets: $25 - $95
Performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Thursday, April 17 at 1pm, Saturdays at 2pm, Sundays at 1pm, Sunday, April 13 at 6:30pm

Ensemble of "Once"
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Stuart Ward - guitar (Guy), Dani de Waal - piano (Girl), Raymond Bokhour - mandolin (Da), Matt DeAngelis - guitar, mandolin, banjo, drum set, percussion (Švec), John Steven Gardner - piano, guitar, percussion, melodica, harmonica (Eamon), Donna Garner - accordion, concertina (Baruška), Evan Harrington - guitar, percussion, ukulele (Billy), Ryan Link - guitar, banjo (Emcee), Benjamin Magnuson - cello, guitar (Bank Manager), Alex Nee - electric bass, ukulele, guitar, percussion (Andrej), Erica Swindell - violin, percussion (Ex-Girlfriend), Kolette Tetlow (Ivanka) and Claire Wellin - violin (Réza).

Scenic and costume design by Bob Crowley; lighting design by Natasha Katz; sound design by Clive Goodwin; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; movement by Steven Hoggett; stage manager, Daniel S. Rosokoff.

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