Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti
Photo: Joan Marcus
I am very grateful that I saw Once (based on the movie of the same name) at the New York Theatre Workshop rather than on Broadway. (Thank you Mark and Rodney.) I am sure the show will still be lovely in its new home, but it is unlikely to retain all of its small-theatre delicacy, intimacy, and soul. On the other hand, on Broadway, Once can run indefinitely. And that is a very good thing.

The Irish guy (who is never named) is at the end of his rope, deeply depressed and ready to give up his music. The Czech girl (who is a woman, but, hey, called "girl" in the program) also has reason to be depressed, but giving up is seriously against her world view. She convinces him to keep on trying. They fall in love (duh).

But Once is not about plot. It is about belonging and family and faith and miracles and humor. More importantly, it is about music.

To get one of the show's few faults out of the way: The songs (by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) don't match the plot or characters as well as they might (should?). The lyrics are generic and not really theatrical. But the music is often beautiful and always entertaining and it is played with exuberance by the 13-person cast of actor-musicians and musician-actors.

Steve Kazee plays the guy. He is attractive and charming and sings well. Cristin Milioti is the girl. She takes a potentially annoying, potentially cartoon character and turns her into flesh and blood--and her singing voice is heart-touchingly emotional. The rest of the cast members are more or less wonderful (one or two are much more musicians than actors): David Abeles, Claire Candela, Will Connolly, Elizabeth A. Davis, David Patrick Kelly, Anne L. Nathan, Lucas Papaelias, Andy Taylor, Erikka Walsh, Paul Whitty, and J. Michael Zygo.

The direction by John Tiffany (Black Watch) and movement by Steven Hoggett give the show a physical flow that both reveals the characters' emotions and adds beauty to even the scene changes. The movement reminded me of Bill T. Jones' work on Spring Awakening in that it uses somewhat bizarre gestures to evocatively express people's inner workings and longings.

The thing I loved the most about Once--a facet I fear won't make the trip to Broadway intact--is the sense of being there. Parts feel like the best party you've ever gone to. Other parts invite you right into the characters' hearts.

But don't let me dissuade you from seeing Once on Broadway--it is a wonderful show.

(full-price ticket; first row center)

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