Sunday, May 4, 2014

theatre review ONCE, National Tour, ASU Gammage, April 29

Click here to read my complete review at Talkin' Broadway (highlights below) of the National Tour of Once.

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal
The new musical Once, winner of eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, is based on the Oscar winning movie of the same name that tells the story of a guy and a girl in modern Dublin. He is Irish, she is Czech. They meet somewhat unexpectedly on the street where he is performing, and over the course of about a week find a connection that brings out feelings they've each long forgotten. They are both somewhat accomplished, though not professional, musicians and the music they make alone and together adds a dimension to the story unlike any musical that I can think of. The national tour of the show started last fall and has come to Tempe for a week long run.

The show features music by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (both of whom starred in the film), including all of the original songs from the movie as well as some new ones the two have written. It is a story of two people from different worlds who are somewhat lost in their lives. The characters are simply called Guy and Girl. Guy's girlfriend moved away to New York, leaving him heartbroken, lost and feeling worthless. He lives with his father and repairs vacuum cleaners in his father's shop, but it is really only when he sings and plays his original songs that he comes alive. Girl lives with her mother, her daughter, and some fellow Czechs. Once she meets the Guy and hears a rough demo tape of some of his original songs, she urges him to make a professional demo recording, and she will help him make that happen. They are both somewhat muses for each other and some of the most intimate and touching moments are when they are singing solo songs that we assume are about the other person.

Ryan Link and Dani de Waal are the Guy and the Girl, and both are on par with Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti who originated the parts on Broadway. While de Waal gets some of the best dialogue in the show it is Link who really shines on the majority of the songs. His voice has the right shades of purity and roughness to get every nuance out of the songs, and he has the perfect lost boy look that allows de Waal and the audience to fall in love with him while also wanting to help him find his way. He also appears to be a very gifted guitarist. Link is actually the understudy for the tour lead Stuart Ward, who is off for this week of the run, so how accomplished he is in the part is very impressive. De Waal has a natural gift for comedy which comes in handy in this show. She has a charming personality and we can easily see why the Guy falls for her Girl. De Wall also has a lilting, rich and pure voice that really strikes an emotional core in her songs. Enda Walsh has written the book for the musical, and while some of the lines for the Girl might appear clichéd, de Waal's delivery of them, in her thick Czech accent, somehow makes them seem more realistic than they would be if they were said by someone else in the cast.

Director John Tiffany and the creative team for the tour are the same as in the Broadway production and Tiffany does a good job of combining the simple plot elements with the fact that his entire cast is also his orchestra. He has created some very memorable stage images as well. The entire cast is almost always on stage, with the ensemble sitting in chairs on the sides of the stage, which allows them to perform the music accompaniment, thus serving somewhat as a "Greek chorus," always watching but rarely commenting on the action in front of them. Choreography or "Movement" as they are calling it, is by Steven Hoggett and, while some of the ways the ensemble are incorporated are very effective, especially during the song "Gold," there are also a few times when it is stylized almost to the point of being laughable. But there were only one or two of those moments. The scene changes also receive fun choreographed movement.

Once is a magical musical, unlike anything out there and one that I think really connects with many people. The touring production is on par with the Broadway production, with two extremely talented actors in the leads, an amazingly gifted ensemble cast, and simple, creative and truthful direction and choreography. Once is one musical I don't think you should miss, either on Broadway or on the top notch national tour.  Once runs through May 4th, 2014, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit 

Photo: Joan Marcus


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