BWW Review: ONCE at Florida Studio Theatre
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.