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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
ONCE
at the Bernard B. Jacobs

FALLING SLOWLY
By ROBERT CASHILL


Expanding an 85-minute movie into a two-and-a-half-hour stage musical is always a challenge. Billy Elliot was a longer film, but by the end of the show’s first act it had pretty much run out of screen story, a hole that the production filled by loading the second act with dance numbers. No one seemed to mind. And chances are you’ll be glad that Once has an intermission, as it gives you a chance to belly up to the bar that scenic and costume designer Bob Crowley has created at the Jacobs, allowing for a drink and a performer’s-eye view of the theater’s handsome interior.
 
Make that a second chance, as there is a pre-show before the musical, where you can mingle with some of the actors, who are performing lively Irish tunes. This is something of a bait-and-switch, as the music in the 2007 movie is more reflective and less ebullient, modestly scaled to a simple boy-meets-girl love story. Or, rather, Guy (Steve Kazee) meets Gal (Cristin Milioti) in Dublin.
 
He’s a vacuum cleaner repairman, upset over his girlfriend’s abandoning him to move to New York. She’s a headstrong Czech immigrant, a single mother, who sees his potential as a singer/songwriter and helps him realize his dream, with some of the other frustrated musicians in their orbit. Playwright Enda Walsh has augmented the movie’s slender story with more “sucks like a Hoover” jokes than were absolutely necessary, and by beefing up the supporting cast, including Guy’s dad (David Patrick Kelly), Gal’s mom (Anne L. Nathan), a jealous music shop owner (Paul Whitty) and a bank manager with other aspirations (Andy Taylor). Walsh has also supplied, in the second act, a good scene in which Guy confides to Gal the fears that have always held him back.
 

That the show doesn’t simply collapse after “Falling Slowly,” the movie’s Oscar-winning signature song, is performed early in act one testifies to adroit staging by director John Tiffany and vigorous but unshowy movement provided by choreographer Steven Hoggett (Black Watch). Much work has gone into ensuring that Once was not enough, and the intimacy of its Off Broadway production last winter has been maintained. Most of its appeal, however, rests with its two leads. Unlike musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who essentially played themselves in a version of their relationship onscreen, Kazee and Milioti are actors who can negotiate the expanded emotional palette of the show, and do so with great charm and sensitivity. Once is a love story, but not the usual kind of love story, and the performers delicately communicate the difference. 

 


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