Once continues to be the little engine that could. The 2007 film was an indie hit that made stars out of its two lead actors, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, and walked away with the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Since then, the two singers have toured as The Swell Season and the movie only seems to grow in popularity.
Now comes the inevitable: A Broadway musical based on the small little Irish film. Luckily, the two-act show stays true to the heart of the love story, and the adaptation is one of the strongest new entries on the Great White Way.
First produced by New York Theatre Workshop last year, Once is fairly identical to the movie, adding in a few extra characters and scenes, but still sticking to the overall plot.
An Irish musician who works at his father’s vacuum repair shop in Dublin meets a Czech immigrant on the streets of Ireland’s capital city. They are only identified as Guy (Steve Kazee) and Girl (Cristin Milioti), two people brought together by their common love for music. The story tracks their strange relationship, which begins with hesitation and ends with a brand-new album of songs. In the movie, they obviously love each other, but they keep their romantic interests at a distance. Although the Guy and Girl seem like destiny incarnate, they are meant for other people. Their coupling is intended to be a spark, a means to gather the enthusiasm for the next step in life.
The musical, which features many of the original songs from the movie and a new book by Enda Walsh, heightens this muse-like relationship. The Girl feels dropped from the heavens to push inspiration into the voice of the Guy. He’s down on his luck, with hardly a penny to his name and the woman of his dreams recently moved to New York City. He’s a problem, and the Girl tries to solve him.
Kazee is perfect as the Guy, paying tribute to Hansard’s cinematic portrayal, but also finding his own take on the role. Milioti is rather different compared to Irglová, which is a good thing, but the stage actress still makes some odd choices. The Czech accent seems somewhat exaggerated on stage, and the entire character comes off like a caricature. An ongoing joke is that she’s Czech and must be “serious.” Whereas in the film, one learns to fall in love with the Girl, in the musical, there’s the opposite effect. As a character, she has become semi-grating, providing unnecessary humor to the proceedings.
Thankfully, the song list is retained, at least in part. From “Falling Slowly” to “If You Want Me” to “Say It to Me Now,” these musical gems shine with such intensity and fragility that they never cease to amaze. It’s difficult not to feel for these two characters, knowing they were made for each other, but understanding the obstacles in their way.
The best addition to the story involves everything surrounding the Guy and Girl. A troupe of actors helps populate the plot, and Walsh’s words, which run too long in places, are always funny and insightful. When the company isn’t interacting with the leads, they sit on stools, holding their instruments, waiting for the next great song. David Patrick Kelly provides some of the most touching work as the Guy’s father, simply known as Da.
The entire set, designed by Bob Crowley, looks and feels like a Dublin pub. There’s a bar in the backstage area, which can actually be utilized by audience members before the show and during intermission. Mirrors and strategically placed lightbulbs line the rest of the stage. It’s minimalist, but effective.
John Tiffany’s direction is smart and precise, although Act II feels overly stretched. He handles a trip outside Dublin to the countryside in a characteristically theatrical way, providing the two star-crossed lovers a nice scene below an Irish sky.
The musical, which is currently playing the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in Midtown Manhattan, doesn’t elevate beyond the source material. But it offers enough love and enjoyment to warrant the story’s second coming. The Guy and Girl hooked us the first time, and now they’ve hooked us again.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Book by Enda Walsh
Music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Directed by John Tiffany
Starring Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti
Running time: 150 minutes
Currently playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre at 242 W. 45th St. in New York City. Click here for more information.