ONCEMusic & Lyrics by Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová
Book by Enda Walsh
Based on the Motion Picture by John Carney
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Original Direction & Production Concept - John Tiffany
Original Music Supervisor & Orchestrations - Martin Lowe
Original Movement - Steven Hoggett
Tour Director, Musical Director, Original Movement Recreation - J. Michael Zygo
Scenic & Costume Designer - Bob Crowley
Associate Scenic Designer - Evan Adamson
Lighting Designer - Russell A. Thompson
Sound & Video Designer - David Temby
Guy (guitar) - Jack Gerhard
Girl (piano) - Mariah Lotz
Bank Manager (cello, guitar) - Todd Aulwurm
Andrej (electric bass, ukulele, guitar) - Carlos Castillo
Švec (guitar, mandolin, banjo, drum set) - Trevor Lindley Craft
Da (Mandolin) - Richard Daniel
Ex-Girlfriend (violin, percussion) - Elleon Dobias
Réza (violin) - Emily Gregonis
Emcee (guitar) - Caleb Hartsfield
Billy (guitar, percussion) - Jon Patrick Penick
Eamon (piano, guitar, cajon) - Matthew Staley (NOTE: Sam Saint Ours reviewed in Friday’s performance)
Baruška (accordion, concertina) - Tracy Thomas
Ivonka - Gianna Winton
Reviewed Performance: 11/22/2019
Reviewed by Rebecca Roberts, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Set in Dublin, ONCE is the story of an Irish musician (simply called “Guy”) and a Czech woman (likewise acknowledged as “Girl”) who turns his life around in a matter of days. Even though Guy is adamant that he is finished with music forever, Girl convinces him to make an album, in order to follow the women who broke his heart all the way to New York. Romantic tensions are high as both Guy and Girl decide whether or not they should start something new with each other, or reconcile the love they already have. It’s a show of heavy accents, onstage musicians, and music so beautiful that it is met with a sea of universal grunts and groans of approval from your fellow theatre goers.
National tours are pretty amazing at preserving the spirit and intent of the original production. They have to create a very well-oiled machine, in order to keep the viewing experience the same for every audience members who sees the production across the country. John Tiffany’s original direction and concept of the show still makes for a very innovative and beautiful production – keeping all of the actors onstage during the entire show, having every actor also act as an interactive onstage orchestra member, using the same basic set for every scene, and so on.
Likewise, tour director J. Michael Zygo has done a wonderful job in recreating all of the original blocking and movement. Having seen the show multiple times throughout the years, I can honestly say that the spirit and magic of the show still remain the same. The only small complaint I might offer is the occasional staleness of certain comedic beats. A specific moment of physical comedy that worked for the actor who originated a role, doesn’t necessarily work the same way for actors who take over the role later on. There should maybe be a little wiggle room for finding new ways of making the same moments funny for the touring actors who simply embody their characters in slightly different ways.
The original music direction by Martin Lowe is truly flawless. The use of onstage actors to bring the folksy acoustic musical orchestrations to life is not a simple task. From the very first song, it’s impossible to not have chills that are both overpowering and well-deserved. And if you get to the theatre right as the house opens, you will get to experience an additional jam session from the actors, putting you in the proper emotional headspace to get the most out of the show. Because, let’s face it, every single song tears your heart out, squeezes it tightly, and returns it back to your chest until the next one. You will feel warm and sad and buoyant and heavy all at the same time. And you can’t just go cold turkey into that sort of experience!
Similar to the impeccable orchestration is Steven Hoggett’s original movement direction. Every single move that every single performer takes is perfectly well thought out and coordinated. The scene changes are like a dance. And when there is actual choreographed movement during songs, it is unlike anything you might expect – somehow simultaneously dreamlike and formidable.
The original scenic and costume design by Bob Crowley has remained virtually unchanged since the show’s opening in 2011. The only elements of the set that change throughout the course of the show are a few tables and chairs that are used to signify varying locations and pieces of furniture. The curved wall covered in different sized frosted mirrors creates the enclosed space where all of the show’s action takes place. And Crowley’s costume design is very simple and effective, creating base looks for each character that stays relatively the same throughout the show as well. Guy’s plaid shirt and vest evokes the perfect “moody musician with a heart of gold” essence, and Girl’s belted jacket with the enviable pockets likewise screams “effervescent girl who could change your life in a single day.”
It’s hard not to immediately fall head over heels for a guy playing a guitar singing soulfully in an Irish accent. And Jack Gerhard as Guy capitalizes on this inevitability by making you fall for his character from the very top of the show. With every strum of the guitar and heart wrenching wail, you can not only feel his character’s pain, but you can also sense its transition to hope with each passing song. Gerhard’s Irish accent remained steady and clear throughout the show, and his boyish awkwardness was irresistibly endearing.
Mariah Lotz as Girl was equally endearing. This show has two captivatingly likeable characters as leads, which is what makes the fairly minimal plot so delightful to witness. Lotz played her character with such genuine goodness. And there was a beautiful poignancy to her musicality. Her performance of “If You Want Me” was mesmerizing – every note more striking than the last.
While each person onstage was mind numbingly fantastic, each with beautiful moments to shine, there were a couple that definitely stood out. The Bank Manager, as played by Todd Aulwurm, was given some very fun moments. And Aulwurm hit each comedic opportunity, especially his entertaining (albeit silly) song, with a delightful tact. But it was his musical abilities I found so incredibly captivating. When I saw Aulwurm fully dancing around the stage while simultaneously playing the cello, I couldn’t look away. And Jon Patrick Penick was another crowd favorite as music store owner Billy. As the obligatory comedic relief, Penick livened every scene he was in and gave the show an extra level of vivacity when needed.
If you love live music, you will love ONCE. If you love pretty people with pretty accents, you will love ONCE. If you love love, you will love ONCE. Please support the arts and let the national tour of ONCE move you in ways you didn’t know you could be moved. I promise you, it will.
AT&T Performing Arts Center, Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora St.
Dallas, TX 75201
Plays through November 24th.
Saturday at 2pm and 8pm. Sunday at 1:30pm and 7pm.
Recommended for ages 5 & up.
A pre-show jam session with the cast begins 15 minutes before the show.
Tickets range from $30-135.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to https://www.attpac.org/on-sale/2019/once/ or call their box office at 214.880.0202.