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BWW Review: ONCE is a Visually Beautiful and Lyrical Love Story

BWW Review: ONCE is a Visually Beautiful and Lyrical Love Story

ONCE is an eight-time Tony Award®-winning musical from 2012, based on the 2007 Academy Award®-winning film of the same name by John Carney. It is running now on ZACH Theatre's Topfer Stage in the first Texas regional theatre production. ONCE is a contemporary love story about a complex and decidedly odd relationship that is driven by the power of music to connect people. ONCE is the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant who are drawn together by their shared love of music. Their surprise friendship and eventual collaboration, heightened by the raw emotion of the music they create together, evolves into a powerful but extremely complicated romance. What makes this musical even more unusual is the fact that the cast also serves as the orchestra.

Guy (Corbin Mayer) is a Dublin busker who is singing in a local bar, accompanying himself on guitar as the show begins. When he puts his guitar in its case and turns to leave without it, a young Czech woman, Girl (Olivia Nice) approaches Guy and attempts to engage him in conversation by asking numerous personal questions about his songs. He confesses that he wrote them for a girlfriend who moved to New York City. He has decided to give up on music because the memories of the relationship are just too painful. He now is working as a vacuum cleaner repairman for his Da (Scotty Roberts). Girl suddenly produces a vacuum that "does not suck", and asks him to fix it. She offers to pay for the repair by playing piano for him. She finds the sheet music for a new song which has fallen from his jacket and plays it. Reluctantly, Guy picks up his guitar and they play his song together. Thus begins a whirlwind relationship where Girl prods Guy to record his songs, so he can get discovered and win back his girlfriend...what neither expected was that in a few short days, they would fall in love.

Director Dave Steakley has done an excellent job with this piece; it moves with a lyrical precision and is full of gorgeous stage pictures. Choreographer Cassie Abate gives beautiful movement to the company with dance movements that enhance underlying emotions. Even the scene changes have been choreographed, lending a lyrical beauty to this entire production. The moments where the performers are playing and moving in a way so as to enhance the action on stage are stunning. The set design by Donald Eastman is visually arresting, with a ceiling of vintage pub style posters and a floor that contains the elements of a ceiling, including vintage electric bulbs and metal ceiling tiles. Sarah EC Maine's lighting design adds the final flourishes of light and color to this visually beautiful work, establishing mood and tone that are, in many moments, like a painting. Susan Branch Towne's costumes work perfectly to enhance the locale. Craig Brock's sound design keeps everyone at the proper level and is wonderfully balanced. The Musical Direction by Allen Robertson is his usual standard of sound perfection, always sounding natural and as if those rich harmonies were the easiest thing in the world.

The cast is perfection from top to bottom. Corbin Mayer is terrific as Guy, with his deeply rich voice and matinee idol good looks. Olivia Nice brings a lovely quirky quality to Girl and a fair share of mystery. In supporting roles, Scotty Roberts is wonderfully stoic as Da, Cami Alys gives a wonderfully heartfelt performance, Anya Gibian gives a hilarious turn as the bank manager who should never sing and Vanessa Hoang Hughes is a charmer as Iriana, Girl's daughter.

ONCE is a superb production, full of lyrical movement and heartfelt moments and stands as some of ZACH's finest work from every standpoint. This is a work of great beauty that has been beautifully done. I give my highest recommendation to ONCE.

ONCE by Enda Walsh, Glen Hansard, and Markéta Irglová
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes including intermission
Age Recommendation: 10 and up for language

ONCE produced by Zach Theatre (1510 Toomey Road, Austin, TX, 78704) in the Topfer Theatre.

Wednesdays-Sundays through October 28, 2018.
Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Saturday and Sundays at 2:30 pm.

Wednesday Post-Show Discussion - Wednesday, September 26, 2018
ASL Interpreted, Open Captioned, and Audio Described - Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Champagne Opening - Thursday, September 27, 2018

Tickets start at $25 and are available online at, by phone at 512-476-0541, or in person at the ZACH Theatre Box Office, in the Topfer Theatre, 202 South Lamar Boulevard (corner of Riverside Drive and South Lamar) Monday through Saturday, 12-5p.m. ZACH Theatre is wheelchair accessible. Discounts are available for groups of 8 or more. Student Rush Tickets are $20 one hour before show time (with valid ID).

Photo Credit: Kirk Tuck

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From This Author Frank Benge