By Karen Isaacs
Once, the Tony-winning best musical now at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, Oct. 14, is a quirky, unpredictable piece that defies many of the expectations of conventional musicals.
It is based on a low-budget 2007 Irish film of the same name which not only did good business in the U.S. but received a number of awards. “Falling Slowly,” one of the songs in this drama with music won the Oscar for best original song.
The plot is both conventional and unexpected. The two main characters are called Guy and Girl; he is an aspiring musician in Dublin who is seriously considering abandoning music. He’s in his 20s, recently broken up with a girlfriend (she moved to London) and lives with his Dad above the Dad’s shop which repairs vacuum cleaners.
Girl, is a Czech immigrant, who lives with her mother, three Czech friends and her daughter in an apartment.
So we can expect the two to meet which they do. She has a determination that Guy lacks; she hears his songs and realizes his talent. She convinces him that they must make a demo record of his music.
But the show includes much more than that.
First of all, as you enter the theater, you will hear the Irish music (folk contemporary) coming from the stage. Most of the cast is up there, playing instruments and singing songs. You are already in the mood even before the lights dim and the show begins. The cast sits on stage when they aren’t playing a part and sometimes they produce, almost as by magic, a prop that is needed.
When Guy and Girl are first talking and he tells her that he repairs vacuums (or Hoovers as they called), she says she has one in need of repair and it immediately appears beside her.
Once may start as a typical boy meets girl plot, but it soon becomes original. Guy takes her to meet his Dad and while he tries to get her to visit his bedroom upstairs, she doesn’t. She takes him to her apartment where he learns about her daughter and meets the others.
The song “Falling Slowly” acknowledges what happens to the two of them; each is slowly and reluctantly falling in love but refusing to own up to it.
Over five days, the two of them convince a bank manager to lend them money for the demo, make the demo and resolve their relationship. I won’t spoil it by telling you how it is wrapped up.
What makes Once so special is the unexpected parts of it and the pure joy of music making that it conveys. The book of Edna Walsh stays quite faithful to the movie that was written and directed by John Carney. The movie’s songs are all in the musical; they were written by musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, established Irish musicians who also starred in the film.
At Ivoryton, Katie Barton is wonderful as Girl; she captures the determination and literalness of the character. She says things that are funny in a completely earnest manner. Sam Sherwood is also excellent as Guy and there is chemistry between them.
Most of the cast play both ensemble and specific characters. Jonathan Brown and Morgan Morse play two other Czech immigrants; they contribute mightily to both the humor and some of the pathos of the piece. Margaret Dudasik as Reza, is less restrained in her behaviors than the Girl.
Perhaps my favorite performances were Don Noble as the father and Andreina Kasper as the Bank Manager who, it turns out, has always wanted to be a musician.
Glenn Bassett has created a set that consists mainly of doors which are often used to make the various props magically appear. The doors seem so consistent with the meaning of the show. Tate R. Burmeister has done a good job balancing the sound from the on stage instruments, the voices and the dialogue.
Director Ben Hope, who played the role of Guy both on Broadway and on tour, certainly knows this piece well. He uses the two sides of Ivoryton’s wide stage creatively. On the night I saw it, it seemed as though the pacing was a bit slow; as the cast continues to work together, I’m sure it will pick up. Eric Anthony as music director worked with the cast and the variety of instruments they played – mandolin, cello, guitar, fiddle, drums and more. The music is folk-contemporary and for me at least, it is hard to differentiate among the numbers; they all sound similar.
Once is a beloved show and Ivoryton is giving it a very good production. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit Ivoryton Playhouse.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.