BWW Reviews: ONCE Awes in Sacramento

BWW Reviews: ONCE Awes in Sacramento

Perhaps the show's title comes from its surprisingly magical "once upon a time" storytelling. Or maybe it refers to its short timeframe wrapped around a once in a lifetime crossing of paths. But one thing is for certain, the Tony Award winner for Best Musical is all at once appealing. Even when lead singer Stuart Ward blurs his indecipherable lyrics together, the folk-style music masterfully conveys every emotion felt on stage. And that's what Once is all about: the power of music to communicate, connect and heal.

Ward plays "Guy," a young Irish musician whose recent breakup left him in despair. When Dani de Waal's "Girl" enters, the vacuum repairman feels stuck in life and ready to give up his music all together. But the girl, a young immigrant mother, brings a gentle, positive spirit and a lovely talent for the piano that encourages Guy to pursue life without fear. The brief romance does not end as a happy fairytale, but the audience leaves moved, just as Guy and Girl, ready to face the world, take on action's consequence and make difficult, but right decisions.

That the main characters never receive official names contributes all the more to the show's stunning simplicity. The musical does change locations, but the scenic design requires the imagination of its viewers. A starry pub with walls covered in mirrors and a brick-effect backdrop serves the charming, laid-back aesthetic. Actors doubling as musicians invite the audience to enjoy pre-show entertainment, which blends into about 20 minutes of folk music before the production truly begins. As the lights remain on for these first moments, the reason for numerous "no cameras, no phones" signs in the lobby becomes clear. Audiences thoroughly enjoy the pub songs with violin, banjo and more, but bringing the lights down for the official start of the show may have saved some awkward confusion.

When the musicians near the end of their lively jam session of sorts, one person asks Guy to take his turn with a solo. This naturally flows into the actual start of the story, as if his song were the ballad of all that follows. Once, itself, is a song, full of lyrical movements, striking relationships, and mesmerizing soul, reflected so well in the surrounding mirrors that tell various sides of the story and details of the instruments.

*A note to readers: Once does contain quite a bit of foul language, although it blends well into the culture of the story.

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