Brilliantly blending theatricality and intimacy, the 2012 Tony Award-winning best musical Once officially opened last night at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, championing the awe-inspiring power of love, music and community to reinvigorate and transform lives in new and unexpected ways.
Bolstered by John Tiffany’s astute direction on a minimalist, but versatile, pub-interior set, delineated with a wood-paneled semicircle covered in mirrors and decked with chairs and tables, Once revolves around an Irish musician and a Czech woman who meet and touch each other’s lives for five fateful days in Dublin.
With deep intensity and broody magnetism, Stuart Ward’s Guy is both dashing and gripping, propelling the simple, but wholly captivating boy meets girl love story with the first impassioned number, “Leave,” revealing a recent romantic breakup.
Dani de Waal is spectacular as the Girl. Vivacious, sweet yet cheeky, she delivers the amusing and, at times, acerbic quips with aplomb, authenticity and impeccable comedic timing. Her vocals are truly exceptional, as exemplified in the exquisitely engrossing duet, “Falling Slowly” (the 2007 Oscar-winner for best song), as well as the infectious “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” with Ward. Together, de Waal and Ward amplify the gorgeous Irish-Celtic folk-rock score by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, heightening the rich and remarkable tapestry of violin, cello, guitar, and banjo that reverberates wondrously throughout the theater.
In addition to the central pair who light up the stage with their blossoming chemistry and beautiful music, every member of the exceptional ensemble is enormously talented, contributing with meticulously-accented characterizations and robust music-making. Each cast performer deftly doubles as actor and musician: Scott Waara, Guy’s understanding dad, jump starts the show with a lovely Irish ballad on his mandolin; Tina Stafford, Girl’s spirited mom also dazzles as a dynamic accordion player; Alex Nee is not only a member of the Czech community who dreams of a career in fast-food management, but he collaborates as an electric bass/ukeulele/guitar/percussion player; Benjamin Magnuson is affable as the cello/guitar-playing bank manager; Evan Harrington as the uproarious, larger-than-life, guitar/ukulele-playing music-shop owner; and both Erica Swindell (Reza) and Erica Spyres (Guy’s ex-girlfriend) round out the fine assemblage as extraordinary violinists.
A masterful music-theater creation that is uniquely uplifting and unconventional, Once is a profoundly poignant production that demonstrates that a Broadway show does not have to be bold and brassy to stir and linger in the soul.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.