Review: ONCE at Wilbury Theatre Group

Production runs through June 23

By: May. 26, 2024
Review: ONCE at Wilbury Theatre Group
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We all experience chance encounters but oftentimes we never know its true impact.

With Wilbury Theatre Group's incredible production of "Once", this love story, packed with the most incredible folk-rock songs, takes chance encounters and its impact to another level.

Based on the 2006 movie "Once" and set in Dublin, Ireland and featuring all its hit songs including Academy Award-winning "Falling Slowly", this production has the energy of a Bruce Springsteen concert and the heart of a touching love story that pulls no punches.

Nile Scott Hawver is a phenomenal lead as simply "guy", a musician down on his luck and out of love when he contemplates leaving that and life all behind when he suddenly meets "girl", a Czech musician played so artistically by Alison Russo, someone with little money and a lot of heart in need of someone to fix her vacuum cleaner.  Girl notices the guitar tucked in guy's case thrown haphazardly on the ground and asks him to play for her but he resists.  Slowly but surely, the girl breaks him out of his rut, where he joins her in music playing with her on the piano. This eventually turns into group music sessions featuring an incredible ensemble cast that during one particular scene featured 15 total musicians playing instruments like the eletric guitar, harmonica, violen, drums, sometimes even the wooden side of a bar. "Once" features so many touching songs including "If You Want Me", "When Your Minds Made Up", "Trying to Pull Myself Away" and "All the Way Down".

The two become close pretty quickly, both as musicians and as friends, but both have other lives including a woman back home in New York for guy and an estranged husband for girl. When the girl finally hears the beautiful song he wrote for his old love, she tells him "No one who writes that song is finished," she says about his relationship with the New Yorker. "Your heart is not finished".

But the girl continues to captivate him with her energy, "where do you get your energy from" guy notes and her never taking no for an answer despite the odds against them. "I am a single mother," girl counters.  "We are a special breed."

Girl lives in a home with her other Czech friends and family, including Andrej, played by Galen Donovan; Reza, performed by Grace Graham and the high energy Svec, played so humorously by Teddy Lytle; as well as her mother Baruska, played by Claudia Traub and girls young daughter Ivanka, played this night by Leola Hogan.  The Czechs are entertaining and very humorous people with an edge.  "Of course I'm serious," said girl as she begins to introduce herself to guy. "I'm Czech."  Like girl, every single one of them is musicians and they all join in on numerous sets.  You can't help but tap your foot or stomp a leg through most of this highly-energetic romp that's about two hours with one intermission.

The music helps to set the tone for the piece but the acting is top-notch and the story doesn't end like you'd expect it to, which was equally satisfying.  "Once" will give you musical goosebumps and it will make you think of your own life and whether you are making the best of it for you and those around you.  I've never seen quite anything like "Once" and likely never will again and I'll be thinking of this one for many months to come. It will have that kind of impact on you. 


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