For the second time in two years, David Mirvish brings back Enda Walsh’s Once, this time with a Canadian cast that recently won three Dora awards including Outstanding Production in the Musical Theatre division. The original Broadway production won eight Tony awards, including Best Musical, and is based off of the 2006 film of the same name. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who starred in the film and wrote the music and lyrics for this production, won an Academy Award for the show’s anthem “Falling Slowly.” Its final extension ends its successful run at the Ed Mirvish Theatre this Sunday.
Directed by John Tiffany and set in modern day Dublin, Once follows a chance meeting between Guy and Girl when she discovers him playing a soulful, heart-wrenching song (“Leave”) as he prepares to leave his music behind after a breakup. She encourages him to take a leap of faith and move to New York to play his music and win his ex-girlfriend back; all the while, a growing appreciation for each other’s music brings them closer together. Walsh’s book delivers a combination of wit and bare honesty in a theatrical experience about taking chances in love and in music.
As I walk through the Ed Mirvish Theatre to my seat, the cast assembles on stage half an hour before curtain to warm up by performing pre-show numbers for the audience. Here and during intermission, audience members are invited to take the stage, interact with the cast and buy a drink from the onstage bar -- truly a one-of-a-kind event.
Bob Crowley’s impeccable scenic design is one of the many highlights of this production as audience members are immersed into Dublin’s pub and music culture not only through intermission opportunities, but through the battered checkerboard floor and working bar. Accompanied by Tiffany’s flawless direction and transitions, Crowley’s set becomes an intimate and practical environment for the audience as it transitions into various locations of the show.
The use of the ensemble sitting on the outer edges of the stage and performing the show’s score is brilliant and works incredibly well into Crowley’s setting. However, the true intimacy that is offered to us is through the use of mirrors along the set’s walls as we occasionally catch ourselves watching small, tender moments between Guy and Girl occur through this fragmentation. Natasha Katz’s soft, dim lighting design only further compliments the atmosphere that Crowley and the ensemble create for us.
Ian Lake and Trish Lindström are, ultimately, the perfect pair. Lake is transformative as he grows from an insecure ex-boyfriend to a confident musician, who also gets plenty of laughs with his Irish slang and spontaneous humour as seen during “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy.” Winning the Dora award for this performance, Lindström helps to drive the musical’s humour as she brings forth a quirkiness and incredibly well-timed wit. Behind this and a passionate performance, we see beautiful moments of a subtle shyness in Hansard and Irglová’s “The Hill,” which drives the emotional progression of Once.
Despite these strong performances, the heart of the musical is really driven by the ensemble as they score the show through singing, dancing and playing instruments all at the same time. Without a doubt, the most riveting musical number comes from the finale of the first act, as Guy performs his new song (“Gold”) at a pub while the ensemble is seated as spectators in front of him. As he slowly begins to play, the ensemble chimes in, one by one, with instruments and Steven Hoggett’s choreography as Girl moves between them. Without the ensemble, the show loses its creative appeal.
As someone who has seen this show twice during its extensions, trust me, you do not want to miss an experience like this. I have never felt such pure excitement and energy from an ensemble that sets an incredible high from pre-show all the way to the curtain call. Not only does Once deliver an inventive experience with brilliant staging techniques, but a new direction into where musical theatre may, and should frankly, go.
Once runs at Ed Mirvish Theatre until June 28. For more information visit http://www.mirvish.com/groups/shows/once.