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BWW Reviews: ONCE is Intimate and Heartbreaking at The Royal Alex


Once the Musical opened this past Thursday at Toronto's gorgeous Royal Alexandra Theatre, proving to Torontonians that a musical doesn't need to be big, brassy and full of fancy special effects to move an audience and shake their emotional core.

The show, which is adapted from the 2006 movie of the same name, tells the story of 'Guy' (Stuart Ward) and 'Girl' (Dani De Waal), an unlikely pair of heartbroken people who meet randomly on the streets of Dublin and help heal each other through the power of the music that they make together. That music was written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who starred together in the 2006 film and who had quite the love affair of their own.

This show is all about simplicity. There is no giant orchestra (the actors play their own instruments and are on stage at all times), no elaborate set and no fancy special effects. Instead, the music is allowed to drive the story and be at the centre of everything that happens - and the music becomes the star of the show.

It's easy to see why 'Falling Slowly' was the runaway hit from the original film sountrack (winning an Acadmey Award in 2008 for Hansard and Irglova) but all of the songs in Once stand on their own merits, whether they be gorgeous melodies with lyrics that help tell the story, or instrumentals that showcase the Irish or Czech heritage of The Players. Every song is purposeful, heartfelt and simple, and when you give in to the power of the music, you realize that the story is perhaps more complicated than it's simplistic overtures would have you believe.

When 'Guy' and 'Girl' meet, Guy is broken-hearted after his girlfriend takes off to pursue big-city dreams in New York. 'Girl' stumbles across him seemingly by chance, is intrigued by his music and asks him to fix her Hoover vacuum. In exchange, she agrees to pay him in music - and the two embark on a five day journey to make beautiful songs together.

Ward and de Waal have great chemistry and sound beautiful together, his gut wrenching sadness a perfect anecdote to her unusual quirkiness and odd sense of humour. In fact, for a story that is at many times so melancholy, I was surprised at how much laughter could be found in some of the jokes which are sprinkled throughout Edna Walsh's script.

While at it's core Once is a tale about 'Guy' and 'Girl', it boasts an eclectic array of supporting players who help move the story to its ultimate conclusion (whether that be a happy or unhappy one may depend entirely on your emotional state going into the show). These characters shine, adding depth and intrigue to the back-story's of our protagonists.

It's incredible to watch all the supporting players as they not only play various instruments, but sing, act and dance as well. It's interesting to note that there is no choreographer credited in Once, but rather Steven Hogget is credited with being responsible for 'Movement'. If you pay attention, you will notice the gorgeous movement in moments such as 'If You Want Me' exists to tell us more about these characters. In that number, 'Girl' and her Czech friend Reza showcase their emotions as much through their physicality as they do through the lyrics they're singing.

In the end, Once is a musical that everyone can and should be able to appreciate on one level or another. It's a musical for people who don't like musicals, it's a show for people who appreciate the power of well played live music. And for anyone who's ever loved and lost, or who is still searching for love, it's a musical that will touch your heart and inspire you to think about love in a whole new way.

Finally, if you're the type of person who enjoys the intimate experience that comes from truly getting inside a show, make sure you arrive about thirty minutes early to have a drink on stage with the actors. You can order from the bar that was designed by Bob Crowley and enjoy your Guinness while the actors warm up on stage. It doesn't get much more intimate than that - and whether on screen, in a small house or in the gorgeous Royal Alex Theatre - Once celebrates it's intimacy above all else.

When and Where?


The Royal Alexandra Theatre

On stage now until January 5th 2013

Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at

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