BWW Reviews: ONCE - A Charming, Romantic Musical
February 11th, 2014 at 7:30P.M.
The highly anticipated Tony Award Winning Musical "ONCE", which is still playing on Broadway, opened at the STRAZ Center in Tampa, to a full house, of fully engaged first nighters. And the production was truly an "ENGAGING" experience! "ONCE" is the musical stage adaptation of the 2006 film, of which the song "Falling Slowly", won an Academy award.
"ONCE" opened on Broadway, on March 18, 2012 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. The production received eleven Tony Award nominations, and won eight, including Best Musical.[It also won the Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Musical for 2011-2012. It won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album.
From the moment I entered the theatre, with the foot-stomping, live music and frivolity coming from the stage, I knew clearly that this was going to be a unique evening, of innovative musical theatre... An experience. Theatre patrons were invited up to the "on stage" bar, (an Irish Pub, as part of the set), to have a drink or two, to mingle with the live musicians, to chat or to simply dance a jig! The air was bubbly and exciting. The lively, folk tunes were played by cast members, who also sang and danced in this novel pre-show opening. This, totally set the tone for the production, that was yet to begin, and brought the audience "INTO" the show. In actuality, there was no defined beginning of the show, as we were seamlessly transported into the storyline, as the lights gradually faded down.
BRAVO!, to director John Tiffany for his superb direction throughout the production; and to Steven Hoggett for his simplistic, clever, and highly effective, stage movement. All of the set changes were triumphantly "performed" by the cast, as a choreographed part of the scene.
Kudos to ALL! The story line takes place in the present, in Dublin, Ireland. The charming, poignant love story, revolves around Guy, a broken-hearted, Irish singer/songwriter and Girl, a Czech musician with some challenges of her own. It is the magic of music that brings the couple together, giving promise, hope and a future to their dreams.
The cast is brilliantly talented. This is truly an ensemble piece as they are onstage throughout the entire show. Every member acts, sings, dances. AND plays an instrument. And sometimes they do ALL at the same time! BRAVO!
As Guy, Stuart Ward gives a captivating performance. His acting and singing is honest, tender, and believable. Mr. Ward's underplayed monologue in Act II, was simply stunning. Dani de Waal as Girl, commands the stage, with comedic assertiveness. Ms. de Waal effectively morphs into more dramatic moments as well. A lovely, convincing, multi-layered performance, combined with a haunting, lyric soprano voice.
As Billy, robust, Evan Harrington was outstanding. With perfect timing, Mr. Harrington brought a great deal of comedy to his role, making him a stand-out. Donna Garner made a fine, sturdy, Baruska, Girl's mother. Ms. Garner's monologue was impressive and vividly focused, a highlight of her performance.
Rounding out the ultra-talented cast of gifted performers were, Raymond Bokhour, Matt DeAngeles, John Steven Gardner, Ryan Link, Benjamin Magnuson, Alex Nee, Erica Swindell, Kolette Tetlow, and Claire Wellin. The story by Edna Walsh is charming as well as enthralling. The swearing throughout the show, was alarmingly, "totally appropriate", to the character portrayals and surprisingly... NOT offensive.
The minimalistic set and costume design by Bob Crowley was realistic and really worked for this production. The lighting design by Natasha Katz was effective for the most part, although dark at times, and I was distracted at one point with a blinding glare, reflecting from the mirrors on the set. I am certain that this was merely an opening night glitch, as was the balance of the sound design by Clive Goodman, which occasionally drowned out the singers. The Irish/Folk/Pop/ Rock styles of music were not only interesting, but quite beautiful.
My only disappointment, and this is a big one, is that with the heavy accents, I had a difficult time understanding some of the dialogue and most of the lyrics to the songs, especially in the ensemble singing. I wish that the electronic message board was left on throughout the show, so that I wouldn't miss some of the softly spoken dialogue or heavily accented words and lyrics. Despite that, I really did enjoy the music the dancing, and the story very much.
The show gives us all hope and promise and a perfect Valentine reminder: "What can be more important than Love"... GO SEE THIS WONDERFUL SHOW! "ONCE" will play Carol Morsani Hall, February 11th- 16th, 2014 at at the Straz Center, 1010 North W.C. MacInnes Place • Tampa, Florida 33602 Tickets: $46.50 - $92.00 and may be purchased by calling 813.229.STAR (7827) or 800.955.1045 outside Tampa Bay, or in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online.