Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 27, 2015


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through May 31, 2015
by R.E. Smith

“Once” the musical, is, indeed, many things at once. It is concert and recital, intimate and expansive, personal and universal. It is humorous, heart breaking and hopeful, understated, but technically brilliant. It is a true original in style, score, and execution, despite being based on a 2007 movie.

Set in Dublin, it is a simple story of passions lost and found. “Guy” is about to give up on his music when he is rescued by a muse in the form of a Czech “Girl.” Despite their mutual interests, and attraction, their love remains chaste. Their collaboration is of an artistic order. The folktale atmosphere is only heightened by an Irish pub setting, as if this is a story being told amongst friends over a few pints.

Photo By Joan Marcus
And what friends these are! Every performer is a quadruple threat: singer, actor, dancer, and musician. The ensemble serves as the on-stage orchestra, stepping in and out of the roles of Guy’s mates and Girl’s family. Each is given a moment to shine in both book and score, but all work seamlessly as a whole, as any good house band would. While there are no “dance” sequences per se (credits are given for “movement”), the unique staging, swift scene changes, and introspective gestures make even the quietest moments fluid and engaging.

The music, including the Oscar winning song (in a Tony-award winning musical!) “Falling Slowly,” is almost anti-Broadway. Rooted in folk and Irish traditions, the songs can be melancholy. But their beauty is undeniable, embellished with violins, cello, ukulele, concertina, and mandolin. Like any “traditional” show tune, the passion of the performers reaches out and engages the audience.

Stuart Ward as “Guy” is a study in contrast; awkward and unsure in personal relationships, he sings his songs of loss with a rock star presence. Dani de Waal as “Girl,” conveys subtle longing and sadness while winningly providing no nonsense practicality.

“Once” uses the simple tagline “his music needed one thing: her”, but this show is a beautifully complex experience, making for a unique, heartfelt evening unlike any other.

A small warning: the Bushnell acoustics sometime make it difficult to understand dialogue, add to that Irish brogues and Czech dialects and some subtleties can be lost. Be prepared to concentrate.