I had the opportunity to see the New York Theatre Workshop staging of Once, a play based on the John Carney film starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. I went in thinking it unusual for an adaptation to buck the more typical play-to-film route. It turns out lots of films turn into plays (if you don’t believe me, look here), and interestingly musicals are often the ones to do it. This production, directed by John Tiffany, uses Hansard and Irglova’s songs in a book written by Enda Walsh and boasts a cast of superb singers and musicians led by a convincingly brooding Steve Kazee and truly charming Cristin Milioti.
The leads, who have the same generic names, “Guy” and “Girl,” as in the movie, sang the daylights out of the hit songs that made the movie’s soundtrack, including “Falling Slowly,” which won the 2008 Oscar for best song (here’s this production’s version as an MP3).
The live conversion brought delicious treats, including watching the performers knock out flawless instrumental performances while singing in character (the cast is the only orchestra), and a clever use of supertitles to reverse translate English lines into the Czech the Girl’s family would naturally have been speaking; and I couldn’t resist the offer to walk up onto the beautiful bar room set to order a pre-show Guinness from the set bar. The smooth incorporation of dance and instrumental performance kept making me forget that this was also classic American musical theatre until the “numbers” were underway. The entire supporting cast was a pleasure to watch, with Elizabeth A. Davis shining as the siren who “seduces men for fun” when she’s not wielding a mean fiddle and David Patrick Kelly leading a pre-show hootenany that had us all toe-tapping as we found our seats.
The story of Once translated beautifully in this production, its tale of frustrated artistry and the force of love was moving and inspiring with a purity that invites the rare sincere use of the word “sweet.”