by Liz Griesmer
Once, winner of the 2012 Tony for Best Musical, will celebrate its one year anniversary on Broadway next Thursday. The show grossed over $1 million this past week, with about 97 percent of the seats filled, according to broadwayleague.com. With its touching storyline and sincere characters, it’s no wonder that Once has been a hit.
The musical, based on the 2006 film of the same name, revolves around the growing attraction between an Irish street musician referred to as “Guy”, played by Steve Kazee, and a young Czech woman referred to as “Girl’, played by Cristin Milioti. Girl first meets Guy as he performs a song full of heartache in a local bar. She is moved by his music and convinces him over time that his songs, which he regards as “rubbish” deserve to be heard by others.
Throughout the show, the music, delivered in a concert-like style to the audience, serves a double purpose, demonstrating Guy’s increasing confidence in his skills as a musician and his budding affection for Girl. And in this production, there are no actors or actresses pretending to play instruments. The cast functions as the orchestra, with several members on multiple instruments. This musical device has become more popular over the recent years, seen in the 2005 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd and the 2006 Broadway revival of Company. But Once expands this concept even further. While the performers play a variety of Irish folk songs before the show and during intermission, the audience is invited to join them onstage to get a better listen and order a drink.
While Kazee has received much praise for his role as Guy, Milioti’s blunt yet earnest portrayal as Girl has gone largely unrecognized and under-appreciated. She handles her Czech accents masterfully, adding another layer of truthfulness to her already passionate and kind character. David Patrick Kelly also gives a noteworthy performance as Guy’s father, revealing a character with gentleness and sadness despite his tough exterior. When serving as an orchestra member, he amuses the audience as he jams out with his mandolin during the more rousing numbers, such as “Ej Pada Pada Rosicka” and “Gold.”
These roles, along with the small Bernard B. Jacob Theatre’s stage and house and simple plot, help to create a sense of intimacy between the audience and characters. The choreography, created by Steven Hogett, feels organic and expressive, putting into dance the changing feelings of Girl and Guy. Natasha Katz’s lighting softens the run-down bar setting designed by Bob Crowley, and at one point creates the illusion that Guy and Girl looking down from the top of the set, can only see the stars below them.
The production certainly lives up to expectations set by its awards. Even from the last row of the mezzanine, the audience can feel a connection to the performers and storyline. The show will appeal to experienced theater-goers and newbies alike, with its laid-back, anti-spectacle personality.