So I thought Cabaret had one of the coolest pre-show set-ups yet…Once definitely blew that away! The set is a Dublin pub…and before the show and during intermission, it is an actual working bar! Cash only, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to actually buy a drink on stage, but how cool is that? But wait, it gets cooler: you can also hang out on stage as the cast starts to warm up and jam, stomping and clapping and pulling you totally into the world of the show. Definitely take the chance and hop up on stage if you get the chance – if only just for the experience of looking out into the house! Not many of us average Joes get to experience that.
The world of Once is very intimate. Much like the film it was based on, the show eschews any traditional “Broadway show” spectacle in favor of halting, half-mumbled conversations, sweetly mournful songs and even soft lighting. There’s no razzle dazzle here; the entire production is entirely self-contained, with the full cast of characters on stage throughout, serving as orchestra, stage-hands and more. It felt incredibly small and intricate in the best way, very different from what you might expect from a national Broadway tour.
This is a simple story about a colorful cast of characters, each of them yearning for something, all of them connecting and expressing themselves somehow through music. As it has to be when you’re required to sing, dance, and play instruments, the whole cast was phenomenally talented. I enjoyed Sam Cieri’s performance as Guy so much that I immediately came home to look for more performances of his on Youtube; he has a beautifully rough, soulful voice that I’d be happy to listen to an entire album of. Like anyone else, I’d heard Falling Slowly repeatedly on the radio after Once (the film) made it big, but it felt so different, hearing it in this context, with these characters.
Once is another short engagement; just like the show itself, its time in Milwaukee will be sweet but fleeting. If you love the movie or just love music, go see it.
Once is playing at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts now through Sunday, April 10.