Once is Simply Grand

By: Alison Silveira

The musical adaptation of the film, Once won a slew of awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2012. All of the actors in the musical play their own instruments, making it a truly unique theatre experience. Although the theatre is expansive, an intimate mood was created on stage. Prior to the show commencing, audience members could order beer on stage in the setting of an Irish pub, while enjoying lively music performed by the cast members. 

Once tells the story of a Dublin singer (Guy), played brilliantly by Stuart Ward, who has had his heart broken. Ready to give up on his dreams of success, he finds encouragement and the motivation to pursue his music through a charming young Czech woman (Girl) he meets by happenstance. Ward gives a raw, passionate performance with an honesty that draws you in completely.  

As the take-charge pianist with big plans for her newfound friend, Dani de Waal is utterly brilliant. Her rich, melodic voice is enhanced by her hypnotic stage presence. The haunting melody, "Falling Slowly," that the pair sing together left me breathless and I found myself overwhelmingly consumed by the emotionally charged music and lyrics. A touching love story emerges and de Waal's character wrestles with herself on whether or not she should act on her feelings. The level of depth she brings to her character is quite remarkable. 

Although the nature of the story is quite melancholic, the strong ensemble provides lots of comic relief.Evan Harrington is an unabashed hoot as the rowdy barman, Billy. The cast's pitch perfect harmonies and soaring crescendos were a pleasure to listen to. Interpretive movement was used to convey feelings among the characters, which unfolded very naturally. The sparse set with mirrors and minimal props, worked well, as I was able to give my undivided attention to the multilayered characters and their own complex stories.

A bittersweet and poignant love story, Once is an absolute sublime work of soul-stirring art. 

Starring Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal
Directed by John Tiffany
Book by Enda Walsh
Music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney  
Once plays at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until January 5, 2014.

Photos by Joan Marcus.