YOUNG LOVE & LYRICISM IN 'ONCE': (left to right) Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in the new musical. Photo: Joan Marcus
Theater Review MusicalOnce is contrived, lyrical love story
ONCE Book by Enda Walsh Music & lyrics by Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová Movement by Steven Hoggett Based on the motion picture by John Carney Directed by John Tiffany Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre 242 West 45th Street (212-239-6200), www.oncemusical.com
Belabored by the subject matter, constricted by the storyline, disjointed by the narrative, episodic by nature, manipulative by emotional heart-tugging, and overpacked with fillers, Once is an ambitious but flawed stage adaptation. What was originally a charming, free-spirited, 85-minute indie musical movie about two people who discover each other one day in Dublin, Ireland, through their music and song, has been turned into a stultifying, two-hour and 20-minute Broadway musical filled with clichés and little originality.
Based on the 2008 movie of the same name, which won the Oscar for Best Song for "Falling Slowly," a beautiful, haunting song, we meet Guy who plays the guitar (Steve Kazee), a Dubliner who has given up on his music due to the departure of his lady love (in this instance to New York) and a broken heart. Miraculously, out of nowhere walks in Girl, who plays the piano (Cristin Milioti), a Czech young lady who has a daughter and lives with her mother and band of merry Czech friends. Needless to say, she will be his salvation and the new inspiration for his music and newfound love. However, whoever said that the course of true love runs smoothly?
Set in a pub environment, the proceedings take on a claustrophobic feel. We are confined in this one small space that becomes many places by just rearranging some pieces of furniture. The rest of the cast members play an assortment of colorful characters (for comic relief and dance movements) as well as the musical instruments. They are talented for the music-playing parts, but for acting and comic respites, that is a totally different story: forced, contrived, and some are often used as mere fillers.
As the two lost souls who find solace and a modicum of salvation with each other, Steve Kazee is a handsome leading man with a strong voice and convincing acting chops. As for Cristin Milioti, she has the harder part. She has to be the proverbial wind beneath his wings with a Czech accent, must sacrifice her love for him so that he can make the music to find the love that left him, and be lovably irritating. A tall order indeed. Ms. Milioti has a distinct voice that may remind some of quirky indie-pop singer Bjork.
It seems that small-scale musicals are unfortunately here to stay for a few seasons. Oh, how I yearn for the glory days of the big, epic lavish, eye-popping spectacular musical. I can only hope.
Edited by Scott Harrah Published March 22, 2012 Reviewed at press performance on March 21, 2012