BWW Reviews: ONCE at Kingsbury Hall
"Once" is not a boy-and-girl-fall-in-love musical. There is a love story between boy, here named Guy, and a girl, named Girl, but their love never comes to fruition.
The national tour of "Once," at Salt Lake City's Kingsbury Hall for a six-day run, promises that love story, but the audience is distanced for emotional connection with the central characters.
"Once" won eight Tony Awards on Broadway in 2012, including best musical. It tells the bittersweet love story of Guy, an Irish street busker with singing-career dreams, and Girl, a Czech immigrant and pianist who helps him pursue his dreams. He pines for a lost love who has moved to New York City, while she remains faithful to her currently absent husband.
When staged on Broadway, it played the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre with a seating capacity of 1,078. Kingsbury holds a larger number of theatergoers, 1,913. So intimacy is lost.
But it's also the listless performance of Stuart Ward as Guy that thwarted my complete immersion into joyful stillness of "Once." Perhaps he's been playing the role, which he originated at its West End premiere, a bit too long, or maybe it was an off night, or a recognition that he's found himself in yet another flyover state. He walks the paces, but we don't emotionally connect to Guy. It is also hard at times to follow his Irish dialect and not all of his lyrics are completely understood, and he expresses so much pain in his sung vocals.
Girl, played by Dani de Waal, is a more emotionally distant character, and the actress plays the role well.
Yet the lovely attributes to "Once" remain: This is a romance in which two people fall in love not to live happily ever. Instead they assist each other to overcome the obstacles that have distanced them from a full romantic life.
The splendid direction of John Tiffany and the actors' lovely movements staged by Steven Hoggett shine through to make "Once" a theater lovers' delight. It's the "emotional eloquence in stillness," as it has been called, that repeat theatergoers can again savor and first-timers can begin to appreciate.
And there are the gorgeous sounds from live banjos, violins, cellos, mandolins, beatboxes and even a squeeze box, a hand-held, 20-button concertina. The haunting melodies from the onstage musicians who double as additional characters are also richly rewarding.
We also enjoy insightful performances from ensemble members. Evan Harrington as Billy, the burly, Hawaiian-shirted Irish owner of a music shop, is a standout. And Tony-winner Scott Waara is wonderful as Guy's Da, still in mourning; but there's a hint of a romance with Girl's mother, Baruska, seen through the lovely performance by Maggie Hollinbeck.