Most Broadway musicals now seem to be merely pop-hit singalongs, flashy technological displays or staged rock concerts. Tony Award-winning Once proves the genre can be so much more. With characters you can invest in, music sung from the heart and simple but imaginative storytelling, Once is one of the few 21st-century musicals that deserves classic status.
But youll not get a chance to see it this week at the Durham Performing Arts Center unless youre already holding tickets its virtually sold out at this writing. The lucky ones will see a terrific cast, playing spellbinding acoustical accompaniment onstage while gripping the audience with intensely moving characterizations.
Based on the popular 2006 movie and retaining most of its songs by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Once follows a struggling Dublin musician, Guy, severely damaged from losing his girlfriend, and a forthright young Czech woman, Girl, in Dublin fleeing a troubled marriage. After hearing Guy singing on the street, Girl takes an abiding interest in his songwriting, soon joining him in writing lyrics and singing backup at the piano. Guy falls for Girl but she resists any romancing, reminding him she is still married. Her belief in Guys music rejuvenates him and they make a demo that she insists will get his girlfriend back.
This tender, almost-love story flavors the bittersweet, emotion-ladened songs, beautifully rendered here, sometimes with just guitar and piano, sometimes with discreet additions of mandolin, violin, cello and accordion. Played against Bob Crowleys cozy Dublin pub setting, John Tiffanys subtle direction dares to use awkward silences to communicate unspoken longings and keeps the characters low-key and real. His clever staging leaps cinematically from street corner to recording studio to bank office with a mere change of Natasha Katzs atmospheric lighting and the quick rearrangement of a chair or table. Steven Hoggetts economically choreographed movement adds poignancy to many numbers.
Stuart Wards Guy and Dani de Waals Girl have great chemistry together, so endearingly vulnerable, youll want to rush onstage to comfort them. They sing strongly, separately and together, creating a heartbreaking Romeo and Juliet-type couple. The others in the 13-member cast are equally touching, completing the most satisfying touring show here in many a season.