ONCE Proves To Be The Best

once-1Okay, so the older I am getting, the more of an emotional sap I tend to be.  It was last year after I saw Steve Kazee’s Tony acceptance speech for winning Best Actor in the musical Once, when he thanked his co-star and entire cast for lifting and carrying him through the show after his mother died of cancer several months prior, that I hopped on a  plane I was at the theatre 48 hours later to see the production.

What I witnessed was something like I have never seen before.  Once, a musical based the 2007 Oscar winning independent film by John Carney, was a revelation.  There are no show stoppers, no stars, no orchestra and  no big dance numbers.  Once contains something no other traditional musical has, and that is a authentic soul that reaches into the very fiber of your being.

Finally, the musical I have been begging my friends to go see is here for a three week run at the Oriental Theatre.  And, I am humbled to say Once is probably the finest production, tour or otherwise, Broadway In Chicago has ever had the privilege of presenting.    To say that the touring production is better its Broadway bother would not be fair as each has its merits, but suffice to say that Stuart Ward (Guy) and Dani De Waal (Girl) have a chemistry that must be witnessed and felt to be believed.

For those that haven’t seen the movie or musical, Once tells the story of Guy, a Dublin musician who works with widower Dad repairing Hoovers.  After his love of ten years leaves for New York, he is left broken.  Enter Girl, a Czech musician who happens to have a Hoover that doesn’t suck and needs repair.   We come to find that she is just as broken as Guy and the two form a relationship that goes beyond the confines of love.  Instead, through the music they both create, there is a spiritual and deeper understanding that will make many other musicals seem superficial in how they deal with said subject matter.

The score is by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova with book by Enda Walsh, who understands each of the characters to their core and writes each in a way in which it is easy for an actor to find something to latch onto.  Stephen Hoggett, who made Black Watch the powerful performance piece that it was, does so again here, making the movement of the cast coupled with the music they create almost organic.  Once

It is on the magnificently talented shoulders of Stuard Ward and Dani De Waal that makes this version so powerful.  Each give their characters’ a truth that will connect with the audience member and bring you into their journey.  Mr. Ward, whose vocal and guitar playing abilities are otherworldly, is a revelation.  So to is Ms. De Waal, who the minute she walks on the stage, connects with the audience on a visceral level.    The other brilliantly compassionate performance is that of Raymond Bokhour’s  Da, who simply says to his son, “How’s the heart?”  Whether it is the matter of fact way of how the line is delivered, the theatrical experience that we have witnessed before it, or both, but I defy anyone with a pulse not to tear up at the authentic weight of that simple question.

The  tour, as was the Broadway production, is under the masterful hands of John Tiffany, and Once shows why many actors call him the best director working today.  This, more than any show to date, is a true ensemble piece, where the cast plays all their own instruments and and accompanies and orchestrates the entire production.   That includes Alex Nee (Andre) Matt Deangelis (Svec), John Gardner (Eamon), Donna Garner (Baruska), Evan Harrington (Billy, Ryan Link (Emcee), Benjamin Magnuson (the hilarious bank manager), Erica Swindell, Kolette Tetlow, Claire Wellin, Estelle Bajou, Stephen McIntyre, Zander Meisner, Tina Stafford, Tiffany Topol and Matt Wolpe.

 And therein lies the key to magnetic nature of Once.  Because the actors are playing for each other, they are present in the story at all times and are listening and reacting to the lines which only makes their character choices deeper and more real.

Once is also an ode to the beauty and culture of Ireland.   It is something that will be more respected and cherished after viewing this miraculous musical.  In fact there is one scene, which still gets me even as I write this, when Guy and Girl are standing atop the set, viewing the ocean.  The stillness, with the sound of water rushing to shore and hitting the rocks, as the two characters realize that their lives will probably have to be spent apart is one of the best staged moments I have seen.   Then, something I think God herself had a hand in, when the entire company does an A capella version of the number ‘Gold’.  There was a silence of wonder that cut through the theater.  Bravo cast, bravo.  Once

I said it earlier and I will say it again.  It is a privilege to watch Once.  Never to date has there been a  production where the soul and spirit of a show transcends to the audience member in a way that cuts to the reason we live and breath. That would be to love.  I love Once.

ONCE plays the Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph) for a limited engagement through October  27, 2013. For more information visit BroadwayInChicago.com and for calendar information visit TheatreInChicago.com