Australian production of Oncethe eight-time Tony Award-winning musical (based on a critically acclaimed 2007 film) has come to The royal theater in Subiaco. It’s a charming and joyful story, and even before the show started there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air – aided by musicians wandering between the rows, playing traditional Irish music and creating an atmosphere welcoming, almost like a pub. It’s the thing that makes Once particularly special – the actors play all the music live on stage, there is no hidden orchestra.
Similar to the original movie John Carney, Once follows a struggling and heartbroken Irish musician (Francois Toby) who meets a Czech immigrant pianist (Stefanie Caccamo) just when he is about to give up on his dream – these two main characters are simply called “Guy” and “Girl”. The story is set in Dublin, and the way the city is talked about throughout the show is a reminder of how often New York is romanticized (as a magical place full of talented people).
The story itself is of course very romantic, but not just in the ‘boy meets girl’ sense; he also sees the whole world through rose-colored glasses. Fortunately, the show tiptoes to the edge of the cliche, then pivots, refreshing your palette with realism and witty dialogue. It has a slice of life vibe, like peeking into someone else’s world or overhearing a conversation on the street. None of the dialogue sounds forced or cheesy, and the jokes elicited thunderous laughter from a fully engaged audience.
The music is what ties the story together. Written and composed by movie stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the songs are passionate, lively, and moving enough to make the connection of the characters believable. Although, if you’re expecting traditional Irish music, you’ll find it surprisingly lacking, especially for a piece that leans so heavily on its Irish identity.
The actors they assembled for the Australian production are intimidatingly talented musicians and each member performed the songs perfectly. The star by far was Caccamo, who was haunting and almost lyrical in his delivery. His solos tugged at heartstrings and immediately silenced the amazed audience.
Overall the game was pretty good, but again Caccamo stole the show with his effortlessly fun delivery and expert subtlety that slowly revealed the depth of his character as the story progressed. . She was complemented perfectly by Francis, who gave a solid performance as Guy, but really shone during his committed musical solos.
There was a great supporting cast, with Gus Noake delivering a stunning performance as the hilarious bank manager and Ian Lilburne creating a powerful and moving rendition of Da. However, music store owner Billy (Rupert Reid) and the girl’s Czech friend Réza(Victoria Fauconnier) came across as rather formulaic and exaggerated. Their comedy was really crowd-pleasing, but felt like over-the-top comic relief, which didn’t suit the subtle nature of the show.
One of the most impressive things about the production was the choreography. When the full eleven-piece ensemble was on stage together, they would perform intricately choreographed dances that had them dodging, weaving, and moving in perfect unison (sometimes on rollerblades). It was fascinating to watch. Surprisingly, the lighting also played an important role in the delivery. Usually the actors had to stay on stage and play background music when they weren’t part of a stage, so several parts of the stage were individually lit. It highlighted different conversations happening at the same time and allowed for layered storytelling – it was an elegant technique.
Once is ultimately an ode to love and music, and while there are times when it borders on rom-com cliché, it remains wonderfully wholesome and hopeful. It shows the world as we would like it to be: a place where everyone parts as friends, where bankers grant loans out of generosity, and pursuing your dream is easy once you stop doubting. self. Every scene was performed with vigor, with every cast member throwing themselves into the moves and songs with total abandon. And when a show is presented with such passion, you too might find yourself believing in such a world.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Once plays at the Regal Theater until June 12 then the Darlinghurst Theater from June 24 to July 31.
Examiner attended on June 1, 2022.
Photo credit: Daniel J. Grant