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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
ONCE
at New York Theatre Workshop

SONGS THAT STIR
By BILL STEVENSON

  Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti/ Ph: Joan Marcus

It's not often that one gets chills in the theater, but you're likely to experience that sensation a few times during the enchanting new musical Once. It's based on the low-budget 2006 Irish movie of the same name, which earned rave reviews and an Oscar for best song. The film is a sweet, touching little romance with stirring songs. This musical adaptation, beautifully directed by John Tiffany (Black Watch), is even better. In fact, it's the best screen-to-stage musical since Billy Elliot. While that large-scale tearjerker will sadly close in January, this small-scale gem deserves to find a spot in a smaller Broadway house this spring.
 
Like the film, the musical features folk- and pop-based songs by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who also starred in the movie. Irish playwright Enda Walsh (whose Misterman is currently running at St. Ann's Warehouse) wrote the book, which is largely faithful to the script by the film's writer-director, John Carney. The story centers on a Dublin singer-guitarist, referred to in the program only as Guy (Steve Kazee), who is about to give up on his music. But a plucky, "very serious" Czech immigrant Girl (Cristin Milioti) hears him perform one of his songs and won't let him quit. They develop strong feelings for each other while collaborating, but Guy still loves an ex-girlfriend who has moved to New York City and Girl is still married to a man who left her and their daughter.
 
While the movie was set in various Dublin locales, Tiffany uses only chairs, tables and props to conjure up different locations, letting the audience use its imagination to fill in the details. His direction is simple but often inventive. Bob Crowley's sets and costumes, Natasha Katz's lighting and the movement by Steven Hoggett (Tiffany's collaborator on the powerful Black Watch) complement the script and direction perfectly. It's the kind of synthesis rarely achieved on stage, and the result is theatrical magic.
 
Making the achievement even more impressive is the fact that all the actors double as musicians. Before the show starts, most of the cast sings lively Irish tunes and dances around Crowley's atmospheric pub set. The actors later play Guy's father, Girl's mother, Dublin musicians who help record a CD, and a motley crew of Czech friends. Tiffany and Hoggett use the ensemble expertly throughout the show. Even the scene changes featuring reprises of songs are entertaining. The act-one finale "Gold" features the whole cast singing, playing their instruments and dancing. It's a knockout.
 
Other highlights include the Oscar-winning "Falling Slowly," which Kazee and Milioti sing beautifully. And Milioti's rendition of "Sleeping" is a heartbreaker. The two actors don't resemble Hansard and Irglova, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't hurt Once's commercial prospects that Kazee is more handsome than Hansard and has a more pleasing voice. His singing also captures the raw intensity that was Hansard's forte. Milioti has a soft voice but uses it to great effect. Only his Irish accent and her Czech accent could use improvement.
 

If Once gets to cast a spell on a wider audience on Broadway, perhaps by then their dialects will be as authentic as the rest of this stunning production. It's already nearly flawless.  

Addendum: The show will, indeed, be transferring to Broadway in a few months. -Ed.)

 


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SCHEDULE UPDATES -
Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.


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