March 16, 2012

Once on This Island of Manhattan

Once the Musical was my birthday show this year. And what a treat it was! When I entered the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, the cast members (who all sing and play their own musical instruments) were already having a jam session onstage, playing beautiful Irish music. The stage was set up as a pub, with the actors moving furniture and other props as the scene requires. At intermission, they actually served drinks from the onstage bar to the audience members!
Based on the enchanting film Once, it features Glen Hansard's and Marketa Irglova's music from the movie, as well as some new songs. Steve Kazee plays the Guy, a broken-hearted Dublin busker/Hoover fixer who forms a friendship/love affair/creative partnership with a piano-playing and song-writing Czech Girl (Cristin Milioti). Mr. Kazee is such a handsome man that I initially thought it would be difficult to see him as luckless. But he quickly won me over with his performance. Each song he sang was deeply affecting, raw, sincere. I was touched by his sadness over unfulfilled aspirations.
The supporting cast members are more fleshed out here than in the movie. Girl's roommates are a zany Czech mix (see what I did there?!) obsessed with 'Fair City', learning English the soap opera way. The banker (Andy Taylor), a fledgling musician, gets more singing time. David Patrick Kelly as Da is a loving and supportive figure. Paul Whitty is Billy, the wacky music store owner harboring a crush on our Girl. Lucas Papaelias is a scene-stealer as the over-enthusiastic drummer.

The choreography is unique and interesting. The staging is modest but creative. That scene where Guy and Girl look over the city of Dublin is gorgeous and magnificent in its simplicity.
While the people around me kept describing the Girl as adorable and hilarious, I actually felt maybe she was overwritten to be this spirited life-changer for our Guy. She is given the funny lines, and she gets the laughs, but she came off too feisty for me. Perhaps because she's not an actress, Ms. Irglova's scrappy Girl was natural and understated. But to Ms. Milioti's credit, her achingly beautiful renditions of "If You Want Me" and "The Hill" are so heart-wrenching you realize that her outward confidence hides her inner torment.
The musical is fresh, bittersweet, and immensely satisfying. Like the movie, you'll cry tears of joy and sorrow. You'll leave the theatre humming and singing the sublime "Falling Slowly".

Click here for tickets. It opens 18 March.
Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day to all!


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