It’s not your typical Broadway musical. It’s all about the story. And what a story it is.
ONCE tells the enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who’s about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs
“Once” is a singular play, but in a way, this is “Once” twice. The title, story, and Grammy nominated music was derived from the 2007 movie of the same name.
Tuesday night’s performance of “Once” at DeVos Performance Hall was the second offering of the Broadway Grand Rapids season. It played to a nearly sold-out crowd. Despite the name, the show is certainly good enough to see twice! Some say this is a stage play integrated seamlessly with compelling songs. Others claim it is a musical telling a story of love played between two stellar performers. Either way, the audience is treated to a performance of NYC caliber actors, musicians, and singers.
The audience knows that something is immediately different when entering the auditorium. Seeing an Irish Public House as the set prior to the performance is not particularly unusual. However, allowing the audience to step up to the stage, buy pre-performance drinks from the working pub, and wandering about the set prior to the opening is quite exceptional. Soon the on stage audience members are joined by half a dozen Celtic fiddle, mandolin, accordion, and guitar musicians. Several traditional Irish tunes are offered to both the audience on stage and those just getting to their seats prior to the “official” start of Act 1.
The staging brings us all together in a common setting and experience. Slowly and unobtrusively audience members return to their seats all while more performers appear on stage. Gradually the house lights dim as the audience is warmly pulled into the pub to watch the story begin.
Most of the tale is told in Billy’s instrument store. But via lighting and minimalistic staging, scenes easily flow from store to home, to appliance repair shop, and then back again. All the time players moving between acting, playing, singing, or quietly functioning as stage crew.
Each of the dozen players demonstrated solid instrumental, vocal, and acting skills. Several players reveal proficiency on multiple instruments. The male and female leads, whose characters are only known as “Guy” and “Girl”, are played by Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal. These two must have been cast for their parts due to their obvious onstage chemistry. Both have extraordinary voices which are matched only by their amazing acting. Each are nearly flawless in their performance.
They play a conflicted couple who struggle with their growing feelings for each other while still trying to honor the relationships they have previously established with others. While never fully stated, the title of the play may possibly refer to the singular time these two will be together in the few days they share in this story.
Several numbers must be called out as special. The audience will surely recognize “Falling Slowly” from the movie. The piece won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Both in the first act and again as a reprise, the song is poignant without being sugary sweet.
While generally a serious and lovely story, there are plenty of laughs and giggles available, not the least of which when “Guy” sings “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy”.
In my opinion, the pinnacle of all the musical numbers is the second act a Capella reprise of “Gold”. The instruments are silent, but the voices aren’t. Each character slowly joins the next in a rich wave of sound providing exceptionally tight harmonies and intricate moving vocals. At the climatic end of the song, the 2,000+ attendees are intimately captivated and absolutely silent.
“Once” is not to be missed. Not once; not at all!
Tickets are on sale now! Tickets are available at the DeVos Place® convention center and Van Andel Arena® box offices, Ticketmaster ticket centers, online at Ticketmaster.com, or charge by phone at 1-800-982-2787.