Writing a “review” of a Broadway show is far outside my domain. Doing so for a Tony Award-winning production seems unnecessary on the part of anyone. With that in mind, consider this the inspired musings of someone who just saw “Once” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater and wants to share some words with people, like myself, who are not Broadway connoisseurs.
I thoroughly enjoyed the 2006 movie starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who also wrote and performed the soundtrack. Like everyone else, I fell quickly for the feature song, “Falling Slowly,” and, like far too few, I was, and am, a fan of the mostly overlooked film.
“Once” on Broadway is better.
Glenn Hansard’s grittier voice and look might have been truer to the “Guy” role, but, as his Tony win states, Steve Kazee is remarkable, too. Kazee’s voice is superb and he is able to convey a fine blend of pain and lost love with the determination of a dreamer.
Yet, for me, Cristin Milioti, from Cherry Hill, NJ, shines like a super nova as “Girl.” Her voice is more than able to stand beside Kazee, but it is her convincing portrayal of the Czech immigrant that wins the audience over. Milioti’s comedic timing is perfect, as she is given most of the performance’s humorous dialogue. More, though, is how effective she is at bringing emotion to her role. Petite and very pretty, she tugs at your heart constantly. Subtle facial expressions, smiles, glints in her eye, and depth of soul seem so clear within her. Milioti is able to jump from her marriage’s aches to her daughter’s innocent joy to boundless and infectious enthusiasm to inspired artist to deeply vulnerable and in love woman. All her emotions take you with her as you experience each high and low of the story through “Girl’s” spirit and craving for life.
“Once” as a play is something more, as well, as to what makes it special. The direction and choreography of the stage and all the actors is brilliant. Get to the theater as the doors open. You will be allowed on state to order a drink at the fully operational bar near the back of the stage that also serves as part of the set design throughout the play. As I walked about, I noticed various instruments – guitars, violins, mandolins, banjoes, and more – lying about. I soon found out why.
With the exception of the two leads, the entire cast quietly appears on stage milling about with the audience members. Soon, a musical free for all of wonderful Irish songs is in full force; the crowd claps and foot stomps along with the performers. Particular praise for the fine musicianship of David Abeles, Will Connolly, Elizabeth Davis, David Patrick Kelly, Anne Nathan, Andy Taylor, and Erikka Walsh. What a fun Broadway version of a romping house party!!
This goes on for 15 to 20 minutes (Too short!). Quietly, ushers escort audience members from the stage as the singing continues. Finally, someone, Steve Kazee, chimes in, suggested he’d like to sing something, and, without even knowing it, “Once” has begun.
To further add to the uniqueness of “Once,” the cast serves as “orchestra” on stage throughout the show. The movement and flow through scenes is seamless and clever.
“Once” might not be the best Broadway musical of the era, and the cast might not go down as legendary performers; the place of the play and actors can be determined elsewhere. But this is certainly a brilliantly staged, acted and performed musical. I loved it all and walked out wanting to sing and dance down Broadway.