“Once” started out as an Academy Award-winning film by John Carney in 2007 and by 2012 had become a Broadway smash with a new book by Enda Walsh and eight Tony Awards to its credit, including Best Musical. At long last, it has come to Detroit’s Fisher Theatre as part of the Broadway in Detroit series. But hurry, because it won’t be here long.
What’s all the fuss about? It’s about the music – gloriously authentic music performed by the gifted musicians who double as actors for this production. In fact, the entire story unfolds on a unit set that perfectly captures the look and feel of a Dublin pub. If you arrive early, you’ll find that the pub is open and the cast are on stage singing their favorite ballads. Join them if you like, but be sure to turn off your phone before you walk in, because the opening of the show just evolves from there. Simple props are whisked in and out as the story shifts to a store, someone’s apartment, a recording studio – but those are contained within the pub. At all times the full cast of musicians sit there, along the periphery of the pub, to provide a nearly seamless curtain of music that literally and figuratively surrounds this show.
The music and lyrics are by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the team who wrote and starred in the film and then wrote additional material for the stage production. This national tour stars Stuart Ward as “Guy” – the Dublin musician ready to give up on love and music altogether – and Dani de Waal as “Girl” – the Czech immigrant who becomes the muse who turns him around. These lonely souls discover that they make sweet music together – and from their first duet to their last, one could feel the audience lean into the stage to catch each note.
Even better, these two leads are surrounded by a brilliant ensemble of musicians who play multiple roles (sometimes Irish, sometimes Czech) and myriad instruments. It is an embarrassment of grand music. You never know who is going to grab a fiddle, keep rhythm on a box drum, march about with a cello or dance through the pub with a concertina. And they all sing those twining, yearning-filled harmonies that characterize Irish music — even as it becomes something more.
The cast includes: Matt DeAngelis (Švec), John Steven Dardner (Eamon and also the Music Captain), Evan Harrington (Billy), Ryan Link (Emcee), Benjamin Magnuson (Bank Manager), Alex Nee (Andrej), Erica Spyres (Ex-Girlfriend), Tina Stafford (Baruška), Erica Swindell (Réza and the Dance Captain) and Scott Waara (Da). Also Sarah McKinley Austin appears as the adorable little girl Ivanka.
The book for this musical is remarkably simple and uniquely uplifting. During the course of this play, there are no murders, rapes, great injustices or even personal betrayals. We like and sympathize with every single member of the cast. What makes it remarkable is that this love story is not about star-crossed lover but, rather, is about the very nature of love. There is romantic love to be sure, and lust, but we see much parental love, monogamous love and that rarest form of all forms of love, generous, unselfish love. Above all, “Once” is about the love of music – the need to play music even when it won’t pay the bills – even if it’s shared for free in pubs or on the corner of Grafton Street – because music is to the soul what oxygen is to the heart’s own blood.
“Once” even teaches us some interesting lessons:
- Before you play a piano, you should always tell it “hello.”
- Living your life afraid to live your life is no way to live.
- When your heart is stopped, you need to get it moving again. Even if it hurts.
- Music is a language that speaks to all hearts with a power to transform lives in magical ways.
- Sometimes a true act of love means that you don’t listen to your heart.
“Once” is a musical that holds appeal for anyone with a passion for real music and even people who don’t like musicals. We suspect you’ll want to see more than once. It plays at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre for a limited engagement through February15, 2015. Tickets range from $30 – $90 and are available at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1-800-982-2787, online at the Broadway in Detroit website, and at the Fisher Theatre box office. There are evening performances Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 p.m., with matinee performances on Thursday, February 5 at 1 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. There will be no evening performance on Sunday, Feb. 8; Thursday, Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. is a special open captioned performance.