Saturday, 4 October 2014

Once, Oct 4, 2014 ****1/2

Music & Lyrics by Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová; Book by Enda Walsh; based on the movie by John Carney
Produced by John Frost, Melbourne Theatre Company, Barbara Broccoli, John N. Hart Jr., Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo
Princess Theatre, Melbourne from October 4, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2 
Review also published in print in Herald Sun on Sunday Oct 5, 2014. KH
All photos below by Joe Calleri. 
Tom Parsons & cast of Once. Photo by Joe Calleri.
 Once is an exquisite jewel of a musical that will make you want to go home and hug your loved ones to your heart.

Its beguiling story, music and characters are uplifting, enchanting and funny, but Once is simultaneously an achingly melancholic, theatrical experience.

Just when disillusioned, Irish busker, known simply as Guy, (Tom Parsons), decides to abandon his lacklustre music career in Dublin, he meets a young, Czech woman, AKA Girl (Madeleine Jones), who makes it her mission to revive his love of his music and heal his troubled, lovelorn soul.

John Tiffany’s smart, swift-moving and imaginative direction looks deceptively simple, but he skillfully balances intimacy with bold passion, using a complex, theatrical language to transform the stage and transport us into the world and music of the characters.

A vivacious chorus of actors play the eclectic, evocative music (Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová) live on stage and Steven Hoggett’s movement provides an inspired physicality that combines stomping, folksy dance with a subtle, abstract, gestural language.

Completing the vivid picture is the rustic, naturalistic design that recreates a Dublin pub (Bob Crowley) and atmospheric lighting (Natasha Katz).

Enda Walsh injects his witty, beautifully structured script with his wicked, Irish humour, whimsical dialogue, poignant romance and surprising Irish and Czech characters, all of which makes Once a play about and with music, rather than a traditional musical.

The beating heart of this nearly-a-love-story is Hansard and Irglová’s music and lyrics – much of which featured in John Carney’s original movie – including Oscar-winning song, Falling Slowly, and moving tunes such as Gold, The Moon, When Your Mind’s Made Up and The Hill.

With its blend of Indy-rock/Celtic-rock/Pop-rock and plenty of minor keys, Martin Lowe’s outstanding musical arrangements make the music lull then surge as strings, percussion and the harmonies of a fine chorus build to crescendo.

Parsons captures the blossoming and healing of Guy as he grows from glum self-doubt to confidence and the rediscovery of his love of music and of a woman.

He plays guitar throughout the show and his voice has warmth and a bright timbre but also incorporates an occasional light twang or a raw, emotional quality in songs such as the heartfelt Falling Slowly.

Jones is deliciously eccentric, sweet-voiced, funny and versatile as the brutally honest Girl and her rendition of The Hill is touching and If You Want Me is captivating.

The accomplished, multi-talented cast creates a thrilling environment, impressive sound and quirky characters including: Amy Lehpamer as sassy Reza, Colin Dean as Billy, the hilariously belligerent piano-seller, Brent Hill as waggish Švec, Anton Berezin as a musically challenged Bank Manager and Greg Stone as Guy’s quietly supportive Da.

Once is ever-so-nearly a love story but it is poignant because, despite the pair’s meeting of hearts, minds and spirit through music, they are destined not to be together because each has an “unfinished love” to resolve.

This production tells its story without spectacle but with simplicity and humility, all of which makes it a musical for people who don’t like musicals.

By Kate Herbert  

Tom Parsons - Guy
Madeleine Jones – Girl
Anton Berezin - Bank Manager
Paul Watson - MC
Gerard Carroll - Eamon
Colin Dean - Billy
Brent Hill - Svec
Keegan Joyce - Andre
Amy Lehpamer -  Reza
Jane Patterson Ex-girlfriend
Greg Stone - Da
Susan-Ann Walker - Baruska

Creative Team
Director: John Tiffany
Movement: Steven Hoggart
Musical Supervisor: Martin Lowe
Set & Costume design: Bob Crowley
Lighting design: Natasha Katz
Tom Parsons & Madeleine Jones. Photo by Joe Calleri.
Cast of Once. Photo by Joe Calleri

Tom Parsons. Photo by Joe Calleri.

Madeleine Jones. Photo by Joe Calleri.

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