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BWW Reviews: ONCE at Tennessee Performing Arts Center

Once: The Musical brings a taste of Ireland to Nashville this week as the national tour makes a stop at Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Once: The Musical, based on the 2006 indie film, is set in Dublin and centers on two characters known only as Guy and Girl. Their story is as much about the love and power of music as it is about the love between the two characters themselves. The movie's most famous song, "Falling Slowly" won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Broadway production of Once: The Musical swept the Tony Awards in 2012, receiving 11 Tony nominations and winning 8 Tony Awards including the crown jewel, Best Musical.

When the audience first enters the theatre they are taken into an Irish pub and are can actually head on stage to buy a drink (cash only, please) and spend some time listening to the characters have a jam session before the show begins.

Visually, this show is stunning. The set is simple and intimate, much like the show itself. Scenic design by Bob Crowley and lighting by Natasha Katz marry perfectly, helping to shift the mood and emotion throughout the show. The set itself never changes, but through a series of prop changes the audience is taken from an Irish pub, to a vacuum cleaner repair shop, to a bank, to a recording studio, and several other places. The back wall of the set is covered in old mirrors that, along with lighting, help to reflect so much of the mood of the show, and not just the actors themselves. There were several times during the show that I was watching the reflections in the mirrors as much as I was watching the actors themselves, and yet it didn't distract from the show, but simply added to the emotion.

The cast serves as the orchestra, playing all their own instruments on stage. When they are not in the scene they sit on the edges of the stage and play their instruments becoming both character and prop at the same time.

Guy, played by Stuart Ward, is heart-broken and ready to walk away from his guitar and his music forever when Girl walks into his life. Played by Dani DeWaal, Girl is a Czech immigrant with a love for music and a broken vacuum cleaner. But most importantly, Girl recognizes the talent and soul in Guy's music and does everything she can to keep him from walking away from his music and from giving up on love.

Stuart Ward's portrayal of Guy embodies what it means to be frustrated with life and love. He begins the show very angry with life and with his place in life. Throughout the show, he begins to soften towards Girl and towards his view on the world as well. Ward brings a heartfelt range of emotions to a character that is in emotional turmoil. Dani de Waal brings a quirky turn to Girl. Girl is such a multi-faceted character and de Waal manages to bring out each nuance in such beautiful ways. One of the most fun things about the character is never being able to tell if she is being serious or funny. Though I'm sure Girl would say she was being serious. After all, she says several times during the show, "I'm always serious. I'm Czech."

There were several other notable cast members in the show, though I wish I could speak to all of the cast members. Evan Harrington gives a hilarious and caring performance as Billy, the struggling music shop owner with an unrequited crush on Girl. Alex Nee brings both youthful exuberance and crushing heartbreak as one of Girl's Czech roommates who is striving for a promotion to better himself in his work.

I do feel the need to point out the beautiful choreography in the show. There is no dancing to speak of, so it's actually listed as "movement" in the playbill. Steven Hoggett has done a fantastic job with the choreography of each scene change and each moving of set pieces. The movement during some of the songs was so delicate and beautiful that I couldn't help but be pulled even further into the story unfolding onstage in from of me. Most notably during the song "Gold," which closes out the first act, but in many other times during the show, you see the grace and thought out actions that are taking place on the stage.

Once: The Musical is an emotional, musical, and visual masterpiece and a one of a kind theatrical experience. Perfect for music centered Nashvillians, young and old alike, I encourage you to get to TPAC for this show. You can see Once: The Musical through September 21st. You can purchase tickets by visiting the TPAC website or by calling the box office at 1-615-782-4040.


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From This Author Cara Richardson

Cara Richardson is an avid theatre fanatic that grew up on movie musicals and showtunes. Participation onstage and off through high school and her first (read more...)