BWW Review: ONCE Showcases First-Rate Artistry at The Phoenix Theatre Company

BWW Review: ONCE Showcases First-Rate Artistry at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Photo by Reg Madison Photography

BWW Review: ONCE Showcases First-Rate Artistry at The Phoenix Theatre Company

To experience "Once," is to understand the heart of an artist. To experience "Once" at The Phoenix Theatre Company (TPTC) is to see a glimpse of local artistry at the highest level. This could very well be the most impressive musical I have ever seen in Arizona, and I personally enjoyed TPTC's production more than the Tony Award wining 2012 Broadway version. Stunning from start to finish, this is a show for everyone, and before I delve further, go to www.phoenixtheatre.com and get your tickets before "Once" hopefully, and rightfully, sells out. The performance I attended, a packed Sunday Matinee, ended with an immediate standing ovation.

An unlikely hit, the film "Once" was released in 2007. This Irish indie found critical success as a simple, pseudo-musical, essentially a 'Guy-meets-Girl' about art and love. The soundtrack became an instant classic, garnering a Grammy nomination and winning both the Critic's Choice Award and Academy Award for Best Song. "Once" was subsequently adapted into a stage musical which earned 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical. The understated tone, fully formed characters, and emotional folk music have struck a chord with audiences all around the world.

BWW Review: ONCE Showcases First-Rate Artistry at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Photo by Reg Madison Photography

The story of "Once" is that of a talented musician at his lowest point, identified as Guy, as his life is reinvigorated by a young Czech pianist, identified as Girl. They join forces to record an emotional album, and find love along the way. The seemingly straightforward plot is multi-layered with heartfelt complexities and unspoken words. The magic of "Once" is twofold; it brilliantly marries the representation of a romantic relationship that can never be, yet maintains an uplifting sense of hope, with an honest and sometimes gut-wrenching illustration of the cost of creating art. The stage adaptation hones in on our leads with a small group of eclectic characters, all of which play instruments to make up the on-stage orchestra. Throw in a few difficult regional accents and emotionally imperative scene work, and you start to realize how beautifully challenging this show is to pull off. Unsurprisingly, The Phoenix Theatre Company is up for the challenge, and has surpassed all expectations with this truly stunning, deeply moving, and all together superb interpretation.

BWW Review: ONCE Showcases First-Rate Artistry at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Photo by Reg Madison Photography

The casting is flawless with standout performances across the board, much of the cast delivering their best work to date. In particular, Cassie Chilton is magnetic as the hard-edged Reza. She shines with a notable instrumental track that also highlights her powerhouse singing. With a few haunting solo lines, Chilton's is definitely the strongest voice of the crew. Heather Fallon, Cullen Law, Alex Crossland and Lauren McKay elevate the ensemble with lively, hilarious characters, each taking on multiple instruments with remarkable musicianship. It is no easy task to find true singer, actor, musicians, especially in Arizona, but TPCT has luckily found an entire cast of them, any of which could easily have stepped out of the Broadway production. Not only is there no weak link in the ensemble, but each performer stands as a first-rate artist in their own right.

That brings us to the leading players, Michelle Chin as Girl and Kyle Sorrell as Guy, both giving star turns that will no doubt resonate in the minds of audiences for years to come. Chin and Sorrell set the tone and the bar with emotionally wrought, understated performances that gracefully guide the audience on an intimately affecting journey. Sorrell has the exact emotional availability needed to draw us in, and with an inherent singer-songwriter vibe, he holds the audience in the palm of his hand until the final bow. A role that won Steve Kazee the Tony award feels custom made for Sorrell's emotive story telling and his rendition of "Say It To Me Now" was the biggest highlight of the show.

BWW Review: ONCE Showcases First-Rate Artistry at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Photo by Reg Madison Photography

But, the true heart of the story, cast, and this particular production lays in the astounding, capable hands of home grown star Michelle Chin. If you are familiar with the local talent scene, you've most likely witnessed Chin as she grew up on our local stage as an actress and musician. There's not a theatre she hasn't graced with her ever evolving presence, and "Once" at TPTC is the perfect showcase for the fully realized, principal artist she has become. Through humor, honesty, and soul, Chin is the secret ingredient that fuels this already remarkable production.

The film, "Once" is a personal favorite of mine, and I've often been known to host viewing parties for fellow artists, but that passion didn't transfer when I saw the Broadway production. The subtlety that drew me to the movie was all but lost in the over the top staged version, which felt like a comical parody in comparison. Thanks to director Pasha Yamotahari, this version is rooted in genuine sincerity, with a keen eye and brilliantly fluid blocking. Yamotahari has placed naturalism front and center, never forcing the connections, silence, or humor, making TPTC's production profoundly effective. The musical direction of local legend, Alan Ruch is absolutely essential to the soaring success of "Once" and his skill is on full display in every challenging musical number. The stage is set with a large cobble stoned street, the facades of an Irish pub, and other local shops. We are transported to the streets of Dublin by the exceptional scenic design of Aaron Jackson and the visually dazzling lighting design of Daniel Davisson. The Phoenix Theatre Company is unmatched with their production teams, and "Once" is no exception. This is the perfect combination of an outstanding cast and masterful direction from both Ruch and Yamotahari who lead the limitlessly talented crew on the most rewarding artistic endeavor I've yet to witness at The Phoenix Theatre Company.

Running until June 16th at The Phoenix Theatre Company, Mainstage Theatre (1825 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004)

Tickets: www.phoenixtheatre.com or 602-254-2151

BWW Review: ONCE Showcases First-Rate Artistry at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Photo by Reg Madison Photography

Review by Seth Tucker (www.SethATucker.com)



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