Once the Musical

  • Our critic's rating:
    Wednesday, November 26, 2014
    Review by:
    Mark Shenton

    **For the original reviews from April 2013 click Here

    I'll freely admit it: I'm a Once junkie. I've seen this stage musical version of the beautiful 2006 Irish independent film of the same name at least half a dozen times on (and off) Broadway, where it originally premiered, and have now seen it in the West End four more times. Once is obviously not enough.

    But I also know that it may not be to everybody's taste: unlike The Book of Mormon, which arrived in the West End just before this show did, it's a slow-burner, not an instant laugh riot. It's a show that invites you into its own little Dublin world discreetly, which it then portrays with a real delicate intensity of feeling, rather than beating you into submission over.

    It is about a part-time Dublin guitarist busker (who works by day in his dad's Hoover repair shop) who falls unexpectedly in love with a young Czech immigrant fellow musician. As we follow their relationship across five short days, big changes happen to both of them in little ways.

    I won't give away what happens, but suffice it to say that there's no great dramatic revelation; just the quiet unfolding of everyday lives, underscored and told through a series of alternately beautiful and blistering songs by the original stars of the film Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. The result is partly a busked concert and partly an aching romance that feels at once organic, spontaneous and freshly minted.

    A brilliant ensemble of actor-musicians make their own music with fantastic spirit and energy. There not a fake performance anywhere amongst them here. And as the show enters the home stretch of its London run, it has now newly welcomed an authentically Irish pop troubadour Ronan Keating to play the Everyman musician. Though he has a stand-out voice, he refreshingly doesn't stand out from the rest of the team but blends in with them effortlessly.

    It's no surprise, of course, that he can sings so soulfully, but he also brings a spellbinding theatrical intensity to his full-on renditions of four solos and four more numbers he either leads the ensemble in or co-performs with Jill Winternitz, the radiant and ravishing object of his affections. She is just wonderful: a woman of captivating grace grappling with her feelings.

    The ensemble around them are no less thrilling, functioning as a superb, seamless group who make splendid music together but also are each carefully delineated as personalities. All credit to director John Tiffany and movement director Steven Hoggett for creating such a fluid portrait of a community that is also unafraid of stillness.

    Credit, too, to musical supervisor and orchestrator Martin Lowe for his careful drilling of the show's musical content that keeps the playing of the instruments as high as that of the characters each of them are also performing.

    This remains, for me, the most unusual, unique and affecting musical in town. It's a genuine one-off which demands to be seen more than just once.


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