BWW Reviews: ONCE National Tour Woos Tempe with Sincerity and Skill
It's just so increasingly tough to stand against the movie-to-musical template. Once, based on the 2006 film of the same name, strikes a palpable blow with it's sincerity and mind-grabbing talent. It's gorgeous, compelling score and abstract staging fulfill artistically and brief well on current and past Irish culture. The National tour of Once arrived in Tempe on Tuesday and is a highlight moment of an already splendid Gammage season.
Often the movie-based musical raises an eyebrow upon it's initial announcement. Once joins THE PRODUCERS and HAIRSPRAY, shows among few others, that originate from universally agreed ideal material. Once, however, takes that boost further. It aggressively features the universal advantages of live performance over film. Immediately, during an extended preshow, the cast establishes themselves as the evening's only musical accompaniment. It's the first of many moments impossible to capture onscreen. Casual then passionate, either each cast member arrives on stage extemporaneously or real effort has been made to make it seem so. Their warm-up proceeds incrementally and as curtain approaches it is clear that the show is well underway. If ever there was a preshow worth extra effort to attend, this is the one.
The actor/musicians often play in real time as their in-story characters, but just as often play seated left and right. Their constant engagement in the action is the addition that compels the piece beyond just another love story propelled by a world class score. The scenic design by Bob Crowley, paired with lights by Natasha Katz places framed mirrors along the three walls of a permanent set, including one large mirror up-center that seems a never-ending resource for lovely images. Particularly striking is "The Hill," a piece sung and played on piano by Dani de Waal (Girl) in which the audience watches her play from two angles. Casting expert musicians and keeping them onstage throughout is the center-point of John Tiffany's masterful and inventive concept. His success balancing representative and specific more than justifies his Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Director.
In Once, a heart-broken Dubliner unnamed as Guy (Ryan Link) meets Girl (using eyebrow raising pseudonyms at first, eventually justified with sincerity) and he becomes re-inspired by her enthusiasm for his music. Girl contends that he can win his ex-girlfriend back if he plays her his thrilling ballad of unrequited love (and Academy Award winner for Best Song) "Falling Slowly." And among some wacky and endearing secondary characters, Guy and Girl collaborate and develop Guy's work for a recording. The plot and the score climax in the studio session with the booming "When Your Mind's Made Up," one of the many rewarding songs that could carry the evening even without the numerous and complex other parts of the show.
Beautiful and entertaining, Once displaces movie-to-musical intolerance with the best format yet. Create exceptional theater.
ONCE continues through May 4th at Gammage Auditorium. www.asugammage.com