Once the Musical Takes the Stage in Boston

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Posted January 16, 2014 by Stephanie Rineman in Downtown Boston
Once the Musical will run at Boston Opera House January 7-19.

Confession: I don’t always take kindly to musicals. The song, the dance, and the lack of spoken word are all things that can be good in isolation, but, when combined, can make for an exhausting, over-the-top spectacle. Once the Musical, on the other hand, could make even me a believer.

Based on the 2006 musical film by the same name, this production follows the chance encounter of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant as they meet on a Dublin street. She is drawn to the intensity of the song he is playing, while he is still trying to recover from the painful heartbreak caused by the one who got away. Over the course of just a few days, the two get to know each other. She is a pianist and he plays the guitar, so they had a bond over a mutual love of music.

The film version is simply enchanting. Shot on a reported shoestring budget of $100,000 in just 17 days, it is understated, raw, and beautiful. It stars Glen Hansard, an Irish musician best known as the front man of the band The Frames, as Guy, and Marketa Irglova, a then-17-year-old who had never acted before, as Girl. The music, including what is undoubtedly the film’s best-known piece, “Falling Slowly,” is haunting in the way that it will continue to run through your head for days. It is not at all surprising that the film was lavished with praise and awards, including Sundance acclaim and even an Oscar win for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song.

Once the Musical

Written for the stage by award-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh. Photo Courtesy of ONCE Tour Company © Joan Marcus

Once the Musical, written for the stage by award-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh, may be more adaptation than replication. Its running time is almost twice that of the film, and along with its additional characters and scenes comes a lighthearted humor that certainly wasn’t featured in its candid and downright real film depiction. While Stuart Ward is on point as the passionate, brooding, but hopeful Guy, the role of Girl, played by Dani de Waal, is much more, well, chipper, than Irglova’s demure portrayal.

Anything that is offset by the overall change in tone is more than made up for in song. The music and lyrics, handled by Hansard and Irglova, never stray. In fact, the score is only strengthened by the sheer ingenuity of the stage performance. The main set, a bar, provides the backdrop while lighting and bare-bones props move the story along from the street to Guy’s da’s Hoover repair shop and back again. A dozen or so musicians line both sides of the stage, giving power and depth to her piano and his beaten-up guitar. At some points, the musicians move center stage in powerful choreography, all the while continuing to play their instruments. And let me tell you, if you have never seen a man twirl and dance with agility while playing a cello, it is truly something to behold.

Once the Musical opened on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in March 2012. It has garnered eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. It was also named Best Musical by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, the Drama Desk, the Drama League, the Outer Critics Circle, and the Lucille Lortel Awards. The current tour began in Providence, RI, on October 1, 2013, and will wrap up in Charlotte, NC, in October 2014. It runs from Tuesday, January 7 to Sunday, January 19, 2014, at the Boston Opera House.

Wary of musicals, like me? Maybe this will help to convince you: Before the show and during intermission, the stage actually turns into a fully functioning bar, where you can grab a drink while the cast continues to play music around you. A standing ovation in the Opera House is not a bad way to end the night, either.

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