“Once” Has A Quiet Charm That Needs A More Cozy Venue

357.jpgMultiple Tony winner, “Once,” has finally made it to town but the Fox almost swallows up the charm and intimacy needed for such a delicate story. The cast of multi-talented entertainers is outstanding and the show itself is a bit corny but attractive enough to reel us in but the music telling the story is pretty but non-descript. In fact, the rousing Irish themes preceding the performance outshine the more subtle score that makes up the content of the show.

As in the original production, the pub onstage is open for business before the show and during intermission. The snaking line coming up one side the stage and meandering off the opposite side is long and an arduous way to snag a Guiness. A more intimate setting would allow for more of a mingle than a line-up (similar to when “Godspell” used to offer “wine” during intermission).

But on to the show itself- it’s a very low-key musical unlike more flamboyant Tony winners of the past. Boy meets Girl, Girl encourages deflated Boy’s ego and they live happily ever after. Literally. It’s boy (or in this case, Guy)- given a delightful interpretation by Stuart Ward who is playing one of his songs with his own guitar accompaniment when girl- an equally impressive performance by Dani de Waal- stumbles into the pub and it’s love at first sight. Not relishing his job as a vacuum cleaner repair man and part time busker, he is really feeling bad about himself until Girl comes on the scene and rescues him from the depth of despair. Shoring up his confidence and securing a recording studio, it may not bring fame and fortune, but it certainly brings love and a bit of happiness.

e528ef10c12311e38cf50002c9540046_8The unique aspect of this show is that the entire cast also plays onstage instruments- and they do it well. A lot of actors- particularly musical actors- have a background in playing one or more instruments, but it’s rare to see a group act and play with equal competence. Raymond Bokhour as Guy’s father and doubling on the mandolin is quite effective as is Donna Garner who plays Girl’s mother and spices up the Irish spirit on the ‘cordine and concertina. The entire cast pulls together for both playing and dancing throughout the evening.

The impressive Bob Crowley set design (he also did the costumes) won him a Tony as well and it adapts well to the Fox stage. It works well in moving in and out of the various scenes throughout the show but the focus remains on the pub that you wish you could visit every night to throw back few and listen to the music. The Natasha Katz lights enhance the action and the combined efforts of director John Tiffany and movement choreographer Steven Hoggett make this play move and bounce and even shine during the more intimate, quiet moments.

Originally a film, “Once” has a book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It’s based, in fact, on their own love story. Although some of the tunes are melodic, they’re not particularly inspiring. They fit well into the sweet proceedings wrapping these two lovers together, but you’re not likely to leave the theatre humming these tunes. But there is a certain charm and substance about “Once” that’s hard to resist. It plays through April 20th at the Fabulous Fox and it’s worth a try simply because it’s an unconventional though very worthy Tony winner.

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