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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Review: ‘Once’ brings audience into the action

    Leave your preconceptions of musical theater at the foot of the stage to join the cast of “Once” as they sing and play instruments with vivacity and foot-stomping fun.

    Before Mumford & Sons, folk music was given new life in the 2006 independent Irish film “Once.” Starring “The Swell Season” musicians, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová also wrote the music for the show, winning a Best Original Song Academy Award and getting an adaptation into a 2012 Tony Award winner for Best Musical.

    This production manages to compliment the film and add distinction, rendering it unjust to compare the two. The swift scene changes maintain the electric energy, adding little surprises used to comedic effect.

    The stage serves as a common ground between the cast and audience, who can mingle in the on-stage Irish pub serving various Irish and Scotch whiskey prior to show as the cast make the pub come to life with lively entertainment.

    A piano and varied string instruments line the scuffed, checker-tiled pub covered in exposed light bulbs and distressed mirrors, reflecting the distress of the nameless main characters known as Girl (Dani de Waal), from the Czech Republic, and Guy (Stuart Ward), a Dublin native.

    Ward takes the stage for the first time without a single word to sing Guy’s raw confessional song “Leave,” immediately striking the right chord for emotional impact; surrounded by golden lighting of nostalgia, he sets the mood of lost love, trepidation and stalled existence.

    With eccentrically sweet earnestness, de Waal’s Girl is the model of literalness, bypassing the socially accepted and expected white lies found in the subtleties of one’s native language. In her own words, “I’m Czech. I’m always serious.” However, she uses her accent to find the wit in dialogue that was once foreign to her.

    “Falling Slowly,” the song that at once broke and healed hearts in 2006 is still captivating as Ward and de Waal make the song their own, reflecting their chemistry as their charming accents seep into their singing.

    How quickly the supporting cast disappears when the moment on stage is to involve only Guy and Girl. This is a credit to not only the strong presence of de Waal and Ward, but also to the ensemble’s talent to bounce from subtly enhancing the environment of the storytelling — providing harmony, dialogue and instrumental accompaniment — to hilariously unexpected over-the-top scenes of Girl’s Czech family and friends.

    Girl’s candor and immediate validation of Guy’s talent as a singer/songwriter provides her the opportunity to write lyrics for a piece of music he’s written. The lyrics pour from her heart in “If You Want Me,” telling of her sorrows, of her own stalled world, as cast members Erica Swindell and Erica Spyres join Girl wearing headphones in a dance that can only be described as effectively mimicking a person’s physical responses to confusion, heartbreak and desire.

    In five days, an emotional bond develops as Girl pushes Guy to pursue his music career, reconnect with his ex-girlfriend and not fear his potential despite their kindling love.

    In “Gold,” Guy’s outlook has clearly altered as he sings in the pub awash in blue light, like a baptismal rebirth. The exposed gold lightbulbs appear as stars in the night sky before the dawning of a new day, bringing new found hope in preparation for his first recording session.

    “Once” is beautiful in its simplicity, exquisite in its honesty and bittersweet in little moments of tenderness as Guy and Girl allow themselves the briefest intimacy by lightly touching foreheads — expressing far more longing than, in Girl’s own words, “hanky-panky” ever could.

    “Once” can be seen nightly in Centennial Hall until Sunday.

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    Follow Anna Mae Ludlum on Twitter.

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