Is Once a Musical?

Alex Kulak2
Broadway Star
joined:9/11/16
Broadway Star
joined:
9/11/16
Is Once a Musical?#1
Posted: 10/3/16 at 5:25pm

I was listening to this musical theatre podcast (Jim and Tomic's Musical Theatre Happy Hour, which I highly recommend), and they were talking about how Once beat Newsies at the Tonys. One of the podcast members said he doesn't think Once is musical, but a play with songs. The more I listen to Once, the more I see it. Almost every song is diagetic, and there's a disproportionately low amount music to the length of the musical. I wouldn't personally call it a play with music, but I feel it definitely comes really close.

JBroadway Profile PhotoJBroadway Profile Photo
JBroadway
Broadway Legend
joined:4/6/12
Broadway Legend
joined:
4/6/12
Is Once a Musical?#2
Posted: 10/3/16 at 6:33pm

I can understand both sides of the argument, but ultimately, the writers consider it a musical, so it's considered a musical. I think there are cases when, even if the music is predominately diegetic, it's so integral to the storytelling and emotion that it can be considered a musical regardless. Jersey Boys is another example of a show whose score is largely diegetic, yet the show still considered a musical. 

Someone in a Tree2 Profile PhotoSomeone in a Tree2 Profile Photo
Someone in a Tree2
Broadway Legend
joined:10/9/12
Broadway Legend
joined:
10/9/12
Is Once a Musical?#3
Posted: 10/3/16 at 10:12pm

My vague recollection about ONCE is that the songs are not only entirely diagetic, but their lyrics are only tangentially tethered to what's happening onstage. The 1st solo song, "Leave", is about the end of a relationship where we never even meet one half of that couple. "Falling Slowly", the breakout hit number, is a love song sung by 2 people who have only just barely spoken to each other. None of these songs seem to serve the purpose of a song in a conventional musical-- to be the logical extension of dialogue to take up in  song when words alone won't suffice. It seemed like you could randomly shuffle the song list between characters and scenes without impacting the plot in the slightest. 

Ultimately for me, this new experiment of a musical left me impressed by its lovely music making, but utterly unmoved by the story since the songs failed to connect with the characters. For me that was a deal-breaker. 

broadwaydevil Profile Photobroadwaydevil Profile Photo
broadwaydevil
Broadway Legend
joined:2/16/11
Broadway Legend
joined:
2/16/11
Is Once a Musical?#4
Posted: 10/3/16 at 10:28pm

The 1st solo song, "Leave", is about the end of a relationship where we never even meet one half of that couple. "Falling Slowly", the breakout hit number, is a love song sung by 2 people who have only just barely spoken to each other.

I think you need to read the lyrics of "Falling Slowly." It is a song that depicts exactly the scene you described - the first few lines pretty much sum it up. "Leave" also sets up the entire conflict - heartbroken bachelor coming off a devastating breakup - vulnerable, in need of attachment. It conveys all we need to know about his character to start the show. That also seems like a convention becoming of a musical to me.

Sure, Once is an unconventional musical but I think its creators sort of get the license to decide what they intended it to be. I don't think songs being diegetic have anything to do with whether or not something is a musical, as has been pointed out with virtually all the jukeboxes. The songs (by and large) are very much a part of the plot, setting, and the conveyance of the characters' emotion. Pretty sure all of that adds up to it being a musical. The score to the show is absolutely beautiful - as was the staging. The scene on the hill has to rank as one of the best and most devastating love scenes I have seen.

Scratch and claw for every day you're worth! Make them drag you screaming from life, keep dreaming You'll live forever here on earth.
Updated On: 10/3/16 at 10:28 PM
haterobics Profile Photohaterobics Profile Photo
haterobics
Broadway Legend
joined:3/29/14
Broadway Legend
joined:
3/29/14
Is Once a Musical?#5
Posted: 10/3/16 at 10:43pm

Alex Kulak2 said: "I was listening to this musical theatre podcast (Jim and Tomic's Musical Theatre Happy Hour, which I highly recommend), and they were talking about how Once beat Newsies at the Tonys. One of the podcast members said he doesn't think Once is musical, but a play with songs. The more I listen to Once, the more I see it. Almost every song is diagetic, and there's a disproportionately low amount music to the length of the musical. I wouldn't personally call it a play with music, but I feel it definitely comes really close."

Err, did you see the show, though? Seems a broad assumption based on a random podcast and listening to the OBC.

I loved Newsies, but this was a far superior, intimate experience.

After Eight
Broadway Legend
joined:6/5/09
Broadway Legend
joined:
6/5/09
Is Once a Musical?#6
Posted: 10/4/16 at 6:29am

Musical, play with music ... it was lousy, whatever you choose to call it.

trentsketch Profile Phototrentsketch Profile Photo
trentsketch
Broadway Legend
joined:6/25/09
Broadway Legend
joined:
6/25/09
Is Once a Musical?#7
Posted: 10/4/16 at 6:54am

I've heard the argument both ways. I personally consider it a musical, albeit an unconventional one.

Even when the film came out, there were critics who struggled to reconcile it with their notions of a musical. I always described it as a musical where the characters sings songs they don't even realize are a reflection of what they are going through in the moment. The characters are performing or writing songs in their story. Their goal is to perform/write good songs. That they draw from their own experience is lost on them until it's literally too late to act on those impulses in a meaningful way. 

The play with music argument comes from the length of the show in relation to the amount of music in the score. There's validity to it, as well. I think a lot would come down to staging. If the actors in the Broadway production didn't play their own instruments, it might have more easily read as a play with music. The incorporation of the instruments into every facet of the music and choreography put the songs at the forefront even in the book scenes. 

gypsy101 Profile Photogypsy101 Profile Photo
gypsy101
Broadway Legend
joined:1/22/13
Broadway Legend
joined:
1/22/13
Is Once a Musical?#8
Posted: 10/4/16 at 7:06am

i never saw the stage production live but i love the film. the movie isn't a musical, the plot of the film is two singer-songwriters who meet and decide to record an album. The soundtrack is that album. The artists are singing, not the characters.

"Contentment, it seems, simply happens. It appears accompanied by no bravos and no tears."
neonlightsxo
Broadway Legend
joined:7/29/08
Broadway Legend
joined:
7/29/08
Is Once a Musical?#9
Posted: 10/4/16 at 9:17am

It won Best Musical.

Ado Annie D'Ysquith Profile PhotoAdo Annie D'Ysquith Profile Photo
Ado Annie D'Ysquith
Broadway Legend
joined:12/1/14
Broadway Legend
joined:
12/1/14
Is Once a Musical?#10
Posted: 10/4/16 at 9:28am

I share similar sentiments as gypsy101 regarding the film, which was so simple and yet completely broke my heart.

What I've always been curious about is why they added these extra characters to the stage production (which I have not seen). Did it work for you? How did they fit into the story? The movie, after all, is almost entirely Guy/Girl-centric...and I was surprised the stage musical wasn't a two-person show or something akin...

http://puccinischronicles.wordpress.com
Alex Kulak2
Broadway Star
joined:9/11/16
Broadway Star
joined:
9/11/16
Is Once a Musical?#11
Posted: 10/4/16 at 9:39am

Someone in a Tree2 said: "but their lyrics are only tangentially tethered to what's happening onstage."

To be fair, that's kinda what Spring Awakening did. It's not really about the lyrics, it's about the music evolving out of a powerful act of emotion. It's unconventional, but when done well, (like in Spring Awakening or in Once), it can work really well. 

bwayphreak234 Profile Photobwayphreak234 Profile Photo
bwayphreak234
Broadway Legend
joined:7/4/10
Broadway Legend
joined:
7/4/10
Is Once a Musical?#12
Posted: 10/4/16 at 10:25am

I can see both sides, but I would personally consider it a musical. A musical that I could not stand, but still a musical nonetheless. 

"There’s nothing quite like the power and the passion of Broadway music. "