6th November 2023
Five days, one album and one broken Hoover: Once: The Musical will leave cabaret connoisseurs to stage starters smiling from ear to ear (that’s while they’re not crying, of course.)
The two act musical set in Dublin explores the almost-love story between a guy and a girl… No, literally, their characters don’t have names. The ‘broken hearted Hoover fixer sucker guy’ and Czech pianist meet by happy coincidence; he is a disillusioned musician, prepared to give away his guitar and ambitions, and she has a Hoover that doesn’t suck. She restores his love for music and introduces him to a new life, which just so happens to not include her.
With a witty, heart breaking script, score to die for and some fantastic talent on and off stage, you’ll learn that one should always say hello to the piano before playing, Czech people are always serious and that ‘those who live in fear die miserably in their graves’.
With all of the appeal of the shows we know and love, but the informal charm of a twenty-first century musical, Once has truly struck the balance between tradition and modernity. Once understands that the theatrical habit of ‘bursting into song for no reason’ doesn’t sit well with many modern consumers of musicals. Understandable, when in today’s society there seems very little to make you want to erupt into song on the spot. This issue is remedied with a musical story line, written beautifully by Enda Walsh, which makes the whole thing seem a lot less contrived.
However, reader, I beg that you do not mistake this musical’s modernity for classlessness. Once’s production team has been sure to honour the time-old theatrical disciplines of acting, music and dance, with the precision and flare needed to land any show on Broadway and the West End. Whilst dance was not a key element to the performance (again, assisting to pacify the ‘how do they all know the same dance if it’s real life?’ nay-sayers) there are beautiful moments of synchronicity. This is particularly noticeable the superb canon of movement in the all-female performance of If You Want Me, imaginatively choreographed by Francesca Jaynes.
There was not a single voice below-par, with the cast tackling intricate harmonies with seeming ease. This said, I would not recommend the untrained singer attempt the songs in company if they want to keep their vocal chords and friendships intact. I learnt the hard way. Daniel Healy as Guy was an absolute standout, captivating the audience with his raw voice and lovable nature, arguably reminiscent of Ronan Keating, one of the role’s previous actors.
Healy’s obviously natural rapport with Dan Bottomley, who plays Billy, allowed for perfectly landed comic zingers from the two throughout, assisted by Peter Rowe’s wonderful direction. Other moments of comedy gold were delivered by the Bank Manager (Samuel Martin) allowing much needed breathers from sombre moments of grief, sincerely provided by Da (Peter Peverley) and Ex-Girlfriend (Rosalind Ford). Similar grief is reinstated by a haunting four note motif which runs throughout, subtly interwoven throughout songs and vamped under dialogue. Maybe I’m just soft, but it only takes the memory of that single bar to set me off crying again.
Dancing, singing, acting… Oh, and they can all play musical instruments. And no, not the first four bars of In the Jungle (The Lion Sleeps Tonight.) And yes, I’m talking to you. Actual instruments. Live, for two hours straight, with no sheet music. This increases to a quintuple threat if you consider Rosalind Ford’s talent for holding a cello from the floor using nothing but her neck. Almost every actor expertly played an instrument… Often more than one, in fact! (This is the first time I’ve seen a melodica solo in a musical!)
Now reader, I must give you my one criticism of the show. Emma Lucia absolutely shone in her portrayal of Girl, apart from one element of her performance: her piano playing. It soon became apparent that she was not actually playing live, but was miming to a backing track… Totally understandable; not all of us can be multi-talented stagey gods. However, during her mime she spent a lot of time looking at her left hand… Her bass hand. Unless the pieces of music have a particularly intricate piano bass part there’s very little need to look at the left hand. Unfortunately, this mildly lessened the plausibility of her performance. Besides this tiny error, however, she brought everything needed to the quirky, optimistic character of Girl.
And so you should! Unfortunately, however, you’ve missed its short but sweet run at the Empire. Do not despair, however, as that’s the beauty of tours!
Once: The Musical wears a t-shirt under its suit jacket, and wears it with pride. Watch it, I implore you. Take your family. Take your friends. Take that friend that hates musicals but loves a night in McCooley’s. This production of Once will have you all falling slowly in love with folk music, the theatre, and love itself. I know I’ll be getting my hands on another ticket, and won’t hesitate to give this beauty of a show another weepy standing ovation.