BWW Review: ONCE at AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House
The first Broadway series of the 2019-2020 AT&T Performing Arts Center touring season graced the stage this weekend. Once the musical, with the book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irgolva, gives us a beautiful story taking place in Dublin, Ireland about "Guy" and "Girl" (never known by name) meeting each other with their heavy past in a bar, connecting through the power of music. "Guy" a musician/vacuum repairman with his broken heart from an ex who moved to New York and "Girl" with her absent husband and responsibility to take care of her child, meet and connect over Girl's tenacity to make Guy's music career blossom. In the effort to find him that love he once had, their own connection forms and leaves the audience wanting more for both of them.
Once began previews on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.The production received eleven Tony nominations, winning eight, including Best Musical. It also won the Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Musical for 2011-12. The touring production brought the original essence to the stage, achieved by the incredible team. All original direction by John Tiffany, movement by Steven Hoggett and orchestrations by Martin Lowe, were fully fledged out for the tour by J. Michael Zygo. Bob Crowley (scenic and costume design) and Evan Adamson (associate scenic design) made the Winspear Opera House into a bar that made this large space intimate and down to earth.
The show starts before curtain time begins. All cast members are proficient instrumentalists and provide a concert before the show, inviting the audience in. I highly recommend arriving early to experience this. You do not even realize the show has started, it just begins. Jack Gerhard (Guy) starts the show with a stunning performance of "Leave". His heart is completely one with the music and left the audience enthralled, so much so we forgot to applaud. Mariah Lotz (Girl) joins the performance, stunned by Guy's performance, demanding that she hear him play again. Their duet of the classic "Falling Slowly" was my personal favorite. I have heard this song played from the original cast and I will say, what Lotz and Gerhard do with it, is indescribably moving. It left many a teary eye in the house that night. As the story progresses the entire ensemble remains onstage, due to them having to play as the orchestra and also rush in as different characters. Every single ensemble member is a standout, a musician in their own right, but even more that they are completely in tune with one another. This is most clear in the only a capella number of the entire show "Gold". Every note, breath, and vowel placement was completely clear. With no conductor, this was an astounding achievement, and I can only imagine took a lot of effort from the cast. Standout members of the ensemble were from Jon Patrick Penick in the role of Billy, Gianna Winton as Ivanka and Todd Aulwurm as Bank Manager. These players particularly brought these hilarious and vivacious moments to the show giving at times an emotional story a bit of humor. Contemporary movement by Hoggett was performed beautifully as well as the small, tiny movements by the cast, performed scene changes, while the bright and big movements in "Ej, Pada, Pada, Rosicka" represented the Czech culture.
The scenic design and lighting (by Bob Crowley and Russell A. Thompson) were dynamic, functional, but at times completely breathtaking. The set's use of mirrors gave the audience a view from behind, useful especially during the times the piano was played. A magical moment where both these aspects shine together is when Guy and Girl go to the top platform looking out at the water and island. Lights (on an actor on the floor) and in the bar glow to look like an island glowing at night and the stage looking like water. It was a simple but ingenious feat.
All this to say it was an incredible joy to see this production. Though a one-weekend affair, it was the perfect start to AT&T Performing Arts Center's Broadway season. You can see their upcoming season here.