Review: ONCE at Florida Studio Theatre

By: Nov. 13, 2017

Well now, Lads and Lassies, I just spent a few days in Dublin with some Irish and Czech friends who sang, danced and played their asals off. And I couldn't have had a better time. You can do the same at Florida Studio Theatre's production of Once, winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Based on John Carney's 2007 Irish hit film of the same name, the stage version boasts music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, playwright Enda Walsh's stage adaptation and original direction by John Tiffany.

In the tradition of the Broadway production, the bar band plays lively Irish jigs while the audience is beckoned forward to have a drink onstage before the performance and during the intermission. The audience can mingle with the cast, have a cocktail or two and take in some pretty awesome music, which makes this for a very different Broadway play. You just can't find fault with that.

The cast of exceptionally gifted performers with strong dexterity in vocals, dance and acting prowess give breadth and depth to the story of a young Irish songwriter Guy (Ben Paul Williams) whose Ex-Girlfriend (Lauren Wainwright) moved from Dublin to New York, leaving him with a loss of passion for his songwriting and life in general. Things start to change quickly for Guy when he meets a supernova Girl (Elizabeth Nestlerode) who is impassioned by his songwriting and becomes his muse. In their first encounter at the music store in which she is employed, we come to know she is a Czechoslovakian living in Dublin with her mother Baruska (Emily Mikesell) and daughter Ivonka (Nya Chambless) and a few other countrymen. Guy reveals he is a vacuum cleaner repairman working for his father Da (James Young). As it happens Girl has a vacuum that needs repaired. Guy needs a woman's touch in his life. But Girl is the faithful estranged wife of a man who returned to Czechoslovakia and Guy still carries a torch for his Ex-Girlfiend. And so their unrequited love story begins.

Guy opens with guitar in hand bemoaning, "Leave", a heart wrenching song about his breakup. The Oscar winning "Falling Slowly" duet between Guy and Girl follows and is so beautifully portrayed. There are so many awesome songs in this production and each member of the ensemble contributes with a passionate and realistic persona. Kudos to each cast member who stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.

Not to give away the storyline but one of the most memorable and funny parts of this musical takes place in a bank when Girl takes Guy to meet the bank manager for a loan to help him record his first album. Guy decides he will go to New York to make it big and rekindle the romance with his Ex-girlfriend. Girl is determined to help him get there. Mr. Williams has the heart and soul to play Guy and the chops to sing his way through a variety of songs while soulfully strumming his guitar. Miss Nestlerode breathes life into Girl with a vibrant personality, beautiful voice and elegant piano playing. Miss Mikesell, Girl's accordion-playing mother, takes a staunch European stance and tempers it with tenderness and a playful side that draws you in. Mr. Young, who portrays Guy's understanding and kind-hearted father, exudes charisma garnered from his respectable long-standing career. Chris Blisset portrays bar/music shop owner Billy with a fervor that resonates all the way to the back row. Paul Lincoln, the singing, cello-playing bank manager is so good at singing so bad he will leave you with a belly laugh. Precious little Miss Nya Chambless, portraying Ivonka, Girl's daughter, didn't miss a step.

You have to remind yourself that this very talented cast has a lot to deal with for each performance. They effortlessly hit their marks, sing, dance, act and speak with foreign accents and even in Czechoslovakian every once in a while. It's a lot to ask any troupe and yet with so much that could go wrong, a flawless production was achieved.

Jeff Dean's set design of the interior of an Irish pub remains throughout the production, while chairs, tables and other props are cleverly repositioned to fit scenes representing a music store, bank, recording studio and Guy's bedroom. Paired with ambient lighting from Thom Beaulieu and costumes by Susan Angermann, you have the look and feel of a real Irish pub. Director Jason Cannon allows his actors to be bold with their parts. Cannon keeps the pace and the eloquence of the storyline beautifully intact. Sound designer Thomas Korp has his hands full with a show like this managing so many vocals, instruments and sound cues and Mr. Korp was up to the task. Movement Director Savannah Holds added strikingly visual choreography.

Florida Studio Theatre's ensemble in Once will get your feet tapping, mind thinking and tongue talking with a bit of an Irish brogue. This is a unique, emotionally charged love story with hauntingly beautiful music and lyrics. It's a story about dreams and how the universal language of music touches and even changes us all.

Just how much talent can one stage hold? Check out this show and see for yourself.

Once is playing through December 31, 2017 at Florida Studio Theatre's Gompertz Theatre. For more information visit


Tickets on Sale For Creative Liberties GAZE & GRAZE Photo
Tickets on Sale For Creative Liberties' GAZE & GRAZE

Limited tickets are on sale now for Gaze & Graze, a progressive dinner and gallery tour, Friday, October 20, starting at 5:30 p.m. Learn more about the event and find out how to get tickets here!

EnsembleNewSRQs Season Opens With BEYOND THE VEIL On October 23 Photo
EnsembleNewSRQ's Season Opens With BEYOND THE VEIL On October 23

ensembleNEWSRQ (enSRQ), the innovative chamber music ensemble, opens its eighth season with “Beyond the Veil,” an ethereal glimpse into the world beyond, with haunting works for string quartet and piano from some of the brightest new voices in music.

Sarasota Orchestra Performs STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE IN CONCERT in October Photo
Sarasota Orchestra Performs STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE IN CONCERT in October

Sarasota Orchestra will present Star Wars: A New Hope In Concert featuring a screening of the complete film with Oscar-winning composer John Williams’ musical score performed live to film. The concert will be led by conductor Susie Seiter. Learn more about the concert and find out how to get tickets here!

Florida Studio Theatre Improv Announces Fall Season Lineup Photo
Florida Studio Theatre Improv Announces Fall Season Lineup

FST Improv announces its fall season lineup featuring performances such as 'Out of Bounds,' 'It's A Blunderful Life,' and 'To Die For.' Tickets are now on sale at

From This Author - Carolan Trbovich

      Carolan Trbovich is an innovator who used both corporate savvy and her considerable creativity to blaze new trails in entertainment industry operations for two powerhouse music co... Carolan Trbovich">(read more about this author)


#repshow# in[i]# Up on the Roof
Florida Studio Theatre (9/27-2/04)
#repshow# in[i]# Deck the Halls
Florida Studio Theatre (11/25-12/10)
#repshow# in[i]# The Rocky Horror Show
Manatee Performing Arts Center (10/19-10/31)
#repshow# in[i]# The Velveteen Rabbit: A Toy Story
Florida Studio Theatre (9/17-10/29)
#repshow# in[i]# FST Improv Presents As Seen on TV: An Improvised Sitcom
BOWNE'S LAB (8/05-9/30)
#repshow# in[i]# Winter Flowers
The Sarasota Players (10/20-10/29)
#repshow# in[i]# Oak
Urbanite Theater (5/31-6/30)
#repshow# in[i]# The Power of Peanut Butter & Other Winning Plays
Florida Studio Theatre (3/30-4/28)
#repshow# in[i]# The Lehman Trilogy
Florida Studio Theatre (1/31-3/24)
#repshow# in[i]# The Sound Inside
Urbanite Theater (10/20-12/03)

Recommended For You