ONCE at Olney Theatre Centre - Betcha You Can't See It 'ONCE!'
Based on the independent Irish film in 2007 written and directed by John Carney, ONCE tells the story of a guy and girl (known as "Guy" and "Girl") who share a brief relationship bonded by music. "Guy" and "Girl" play guitar and piano respectively with members of the ensemble playing bar patrons and band members who also danced (even with a cello). It is "Girl" (a married but separated Czech immigrant who lives in Dublin with her young daughter and mother) who discovers a lonely "Guy" playing his music in the Dublin streets and convinces him his music needs to be recorded. When she discovers his father has a vacuum cleaner repair shop she finds karma since her very own Hoover just doesn't suck anymore. Here the story begins.
It was originally developed at the American Repertory Theatre in April 2011, pemiered Off-Broadway in 2011 at the New York Theatre Workshop and transferred to Broadway in Feb. 2012. It went on to win eight 2012 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Direction for John Tiffany and Best Orchestrations for Martin Lowe. Britisher Lowe made his American and Broadway debut as Musical Supervisor and Orchestrator for ONCE. Her also served as Musical Director for the West End production of MAMMA MIA! (1999).
The music and lyrics are by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who also starred in the show and played the guitar and piano respectively. Please get the CD before you see the show. It has all the lyrics and has photos. This is why I love CD's versus streaming musicals. The book is by Irish playwright Edna Walsh.
The original concept of ONCE stipulated the musical would feature a cast that also served as the full orchestra. This idea was taken from British Director John Doyle who helmed productions of musicals like SWEENEY TODD (2005) and COMPANY (2006) on Broadway.
The music is filled with gorgeous numbers. The song "Falling Slowly" won the Academy Award for Best Song. Try playing these notes on the piano to see its beautiful simplicity...CDEDCDFECDEFDC. A moving ballad is the gorgeous accapela song, "Gold".
Director Marcia Milgram Dodge (Tony Award nominee for the RAGTIME revival in 2009) does a masterful job at directing and even does the great Irish choreography.
What an ensemble Dodge has corralled. Davon Ralston (Reza) who plays the sexy friend of "Girl" (on Violin), Nick DePinto plays the Bank Manager who is asked to give "Guy" a loan to record a CD (which he grants with the ultimatum that he plays his guitar on the CD), John Syger (Andrej) wearing the uniform of a fast-food restaurant and talks about one day being promoted to the position of area manager (on Banjo, Electric Bass, Mandolin, Guitar, and Ukelele), Carlos Castillo as Svec (on Mandelin), Katie Chambers as "Guy's" ex-girlfriend (on Cello), Craig MacDonald as Da, Guy's father who owns the vacuum cleaner shop (Mandolin, Papoose, Bodhran), Emily Mikesell as Baruska, Girl's mother who plays a mean Violin and Accordian, Brien Reisman as Eamon (Guitar and Ukulele), Davde Stishen as Billy (Mandolin and Guitar), and Kyleigh Fuller and Somaya Litmon alternating as Ivanka, "Girl's" daughter and Christopher Youstra (Olney Associate Artistic Director/Director of Musical Theatre) served as the emcee and played the Accordian, Melodica, Piano, and Castanets. Olney Artistic Director Jason Loewith announced opening night that Youstra now has an Equity card!
Two good leads are essential for ONCE to be a success. Gregory Maheu is one terrific "Guy". I recall his great work in RAGTIME at Ford's Theatre where he was also in VIOLET and 1776. I also saw him in four musicals at Signature: PASSION, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, SWEENEY TODD, and CHESS. Maheu has just what an actor playing "Guy" needs, good looks, power, great musicality, understanding, humor, and plays a mean guitar. Look for him next in GRAND HOTEL at the Signature Theatre.
This is my first look at Malinda Kathleen Reese (Girl) and I hope to see again soon. She has extensive credentials in the DC area but is probably best known as the creator of TRANSLATOR FALLS and MALINDA on YouTube. She imbues her character with sparkle. She nails her Czech accent and one hopes she succeeds with her passion for music. It is "Girl" who finds the genius in "Guy's" music.
Lynn Watson Voice and Dialect coach (who I met after the show and is married to actor Dan Manning) explained there were three Irish accents. There was one for the Cork bank manager who spoke like he was from Cork
Come early for the pre-show concert by the 10 piece string orchestra (there are no woodwinds or brass in the show). There is an open guitar case during the pre-show busker performance and all monies placed in the case will be donated to "Taking Care of Our Own", an initiative that assists area theatre professionals in times of unforeseen hardship. You can donate online at www.theatrewashington.org.
ADDENDUM: As I stated in my original review I hope they could extend it. Good news. They HAVE!!! It now runs until March 17, 2019!!!
ONCE continues until March 10, 2019 and I hope they can extend the run. This is Broadway caliber. For tickets, call 301-924-3400 or visit www.OlneyTheatre.org.
OIL is next running Feb. 27 to March 31 in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab. It is an American premiere and follows English mothers and daughters over two centuries from the dawn of the age of oil in 1889 to the future. In five separate but connected playlets from Cornwall to Tehran, London, Baghdad and back.