The latest leg in Once’s improbable journey from low budget cult movie to Tony award-winning Broadway musical, finds it back in the city it’s set.
Prior to the show audience members are invited on stage for a drink from the set’s fully operational bar. Several actors emerge with instruments, mingle with the crowd, and give us a taste of what’s to come. It’s a nice, feel good gimmick that sets the show apart from the beginning.
Once is the story of a chance encounter between two struggling musicians, played by Brian Gilligan and Niamh Perry, and their unlikely romance. While the basic plot remains loyal to John Carney’s 2006 motion picture starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova- who also wrote the music- this production is more fleshed out.
Perry plays ‘Girl’, a headstrong Czech mother of one who cajoles Gilligan’s ‘Guy’ into pursuing his musical career and using it to win back an ex-girlfriend in New York.
They bond over a love of music, begin to collaborate and cobble together a band of misfits with varying degrees of skill. It’s a lively affair with 12 all singing, all dancing actors who casually dip in and out. They swap instruments, dance across the bar and easily move from the stripped back ‘Say It to Me Now’ to energetic, ensemble pieces like ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up’.
There’s a communal spirit in the room and it’s impossible not to tap your feet.
Enda Walsh’s expertly written book is laced with Dublin humour and local references. A scene about a Czech family’s bizarre obsession with Fair City hits home, as does an old school Dublin/Cork rivalry.
Director John Tiffany delivers a very simple but genuinely moving love story that lightly touches on cultural clashes, previous relationships and family problems. One scene atop the stage, with the leading pair framed by a spotlight, and a message lost in translation, is particularly poignant.
(Photo by Pat Redmond)
There are strong performances throughout but Phelim Drew as a neurotic yet lovable music shop owner stands out. David Ganly’s comedic portrayal of a down-on-his-luck bank manager is also worthy of a mention.
As the story reaches a gripping ‘will they or won’t they?’ moment, a full cast rendition of Oscar winning ‘Falling Slowly’ closes the show and keeps the audience on their feet for a well-deserved three encores. Once is not to be missed.
(Photo by Pat Redmond)
Once runs at The Olympia Theatre until August 26th.