BWW Review: ONCE is Enough at Omaha Community Playhouse
Once in awhile a musical comes along that strikes the right chord. Irish musician Glen Hansard and Czech pianist Marketa Irglova collaborated on a stage version of the 2007 film by John Carney. This deceptively simple story won a Tony Award for Best Book by Enda Walsh along with 7 more wins out of 11 Tony nominations in 2012, including Best Musical, Best Orchestration, and Best Direction. Its most familiar song, "Falling Slowly," won an Academy Award and the cast album captured a Grammy.
Bob Crowley won a Tony for Best Scenic Design for the Broadway production. His design featured a bar set smack in the center of the stage. Prior to the show and during intermission, patrons were allowed to purchase real drinks from the bar, making the immersive nature of the show very personal. Jim Othuse, Omaha Community Playhouse Scenic Designer, did not go that route, but chose instead to produce a stripped down set with a glorious arched window that looked out onto another building. The rest of the stage consisted of tables and chairs and a rack for the various musical instruments that are played in the show by members of the cast.
Directing the cast orchestra is Jim Boggess, who also appears as the owner of the recording studio, Eamon. He adds his commendable instrumental talents as pianist and adds the melodica and cajon.
Director/Choreographer Kimberly Faith Hickman had her work cut out for her to mount this show. Not only must she find actors who could play instruments, she had to find the right actors who could also sing and dance. Fortunately for Omaha, she found her cast. As she says in the playbill, some of the cast even learned a new instrument for the show. And all of them had to learn a dialect, be it Irish or Czech, and conquer the demanding music which ranges from upbeat folk songs sung by the entire cast or silly songs about a Hoover salesman or lyrical melodies that haunt your soul.
Melissa King nails the character of Girl. Her wry wit, compassion, and her forthrightness are only a fraction of her winning performance. She embodies Girl with credible dialect, skillful playing of the piano, and she pulls out all the vocal stops in "The Hill," sending chills up my spine. Her counterpart, played by newcomer to musical theatre Jay Hanson, presents a rugged version of Glen Hansard's Guy. An experienced guitarist/vocalist, he does a fine job of portraying an Irish itinerant singer songwriter. I would like to see him lean a little further into his role emotionally, as I didn't sense the passion.
Joey Hartshorn as Girl's mother Baruska, and Thomas Gjere as The Banker, drew the most laughs. Hartshorn's antics are as exaggerated as her bright red hair whereas Gjere plays it with more subtlety..except for his ear searing rendition of "Abandoned in Bandon." It must be hard for Gjere to intentionally sing off key. Both win the appreciation of the crowd. Sean Johnson (Billy) also is a win with his karate kicks. Ejanae Hume (Reza) displays beautiful vocals and violinist proficiency.
The movement of the ensemble out into the aisles is a plus. The surround sound effect draws us further into the story. "When Your Mind's Made Up" is the most thrilling song of the evening, melding Hanson, King and the entire ensemble into gorgeous harmony.
The story of ONCE is more about 'who' and less about 'what.' The story line is Girl meets Guy. Girl inspires Guy. Guy and Girl love each other enough to let the other go. Their gifts are their sacrifices and their ability to use music to move through loss. And that is enough.
Photo Credit: Colin Conces