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ONCE The Musical

ONCE (Broadway in Chicago)
Oriental Theater, Chicago
When: Through Oct. 27
Where: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.
Running time: 2 hours, 30 mins.
Tickets: $27-95 at 800-775-2000 or BroadwayinChicago.com

Tweetable Review: The first national tour of Once isn’t just enjoyable – its a haunting & heartfelt must see that lingers long after the final bows.


The musical Once is not only the winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical to grace Broadway during the 2012 Theatre season, but it’s one of the more notable shows of late to prove that not all love stories have to be wine & roses. True, you won’t leave Chicago’s Oriental Theatre with the warmest feeling, but audiences will leave with a sense of something which resonants long after the curtain has closed for the evening – it’s that staying power which is well worth the steep ticket price that makes this show a must see.  

Based on the 2006 Independent feature film directed by John Carney &  starring musicians Glen Hansard (of Irish band fame, The Frames) and little known (at the time) singer-songwriter, Market Irglova, the story of Once spans the course of a week in Dublin as a despondent Irish street performer (The Guy) finds friendship with an eccentric Czech immigrant (The Girl) who is enamored with Guy’s musical talent, and pushes him to perform in the name of love. It’s true that the story is deceptively simple but unlike most musicals that use a convention of emotional height to release music as an expression, the musical of Once uses a convention to express what can’t be kept hidden any longer; essentially, audiences don’t get overindulgence they get under the surface. 

The New York Theatre Workshop originated show isn’t just about two seemingly star-crossed lovers at different stages in their lives, but its a simple story that speaks volumes to personal principles, sense of self and taking life’s hurt and using it as a motivating tool to rise above it all; like the culture of the Irish, Once is about resilience. There’s no false moments and there’s no fluff-filler just to add more running time – what is present is pure romantic, emotional moments & an honesty that is more-often-than-not shy’ed away from in today’s theatre; Writer Walsh somehow manages to actually raise the realism even further from the film by finding the actual substance of real interactions rather than symbolism, and they magically manifest themselves across on stage. Hansard & Irglova’s musical compositions remain very much in tact here for the stage version and have been elaborated to provide more in-depth nuances within the live performance, most definitely enhanced by the cast members doubling as the Once orchestra. Steven Hoggett’s honest and character driven movement is subtly rooted in more emotional response than visual storytelling and suits the piece perfectly organic.  Bob Crowley’s precise & traditional, wood & mirror heavy Irish pub lends a perfect setup where our characters live & breath, while Natasha Katz miraculously transforms her lighting design to come up with a deep & cool emotional color scheme; high props go to Katz for one of the most impressively simple lighting effects seen in today’s world of multi-million dollar musical productions – the moment you see it, you know it’s small, simple and perfect in design & execution. 


Beyond this, John Tiffany’s original direction places audiences right in the middle of the stage action by being specifically minimal, yet underlined by forward momentum to keep the show at a pace that is never dry. Two fine & fully suitable actors helm Once in Dani De Waal’s quick-witted & inquisitive Girl, while Stuart Ward’s vulnerable & emotionally wounded Guy mix well together on stage. Together, the duo bring a chemistry that certainly can’t be denied even in the Oriental’s back row of seats & both set of vocals carry nuances that the fans of the original film soundtrack can & will highly appreciate. The rest of the character and supporting actors (Raymond Bokhour as Da, John Steven Gardner as Eamon, Donna Garner as Buruska, Evan Harrington as Billy) all play out their parts to a T, even when some seem a bit large – they never are out of bounds. 

Overall, the first national tour of Once is not top-notch & not to be missed production that features strong talent & smart, emotionally-driven direction.  Sure, Chicagoans may experience some Big Apple sticker shock when they arrive at the Box Office, but don’t run to their TVs to catch the film OnDemand just yet. It’s highly recommended that if you are going to spend your hard earned cash on a show this season, make sure it’s Once as you won’t regret a single minute. 

Fresh Roasted Rating: Highly Recommended & not to be missed!

Check out the full Review HERE

~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

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