March 23, 2012

AN EXQUISITELY ANTI-MODERN TALE:

REVIEW: of Once (Terry Teachout, 3/23/12, WSJ)

"Once" is the most touching new musical to come to Broadway since "The Light in the Piazza" opened here in 2005, and it deserves to be a hit. Sure, it belongs off-Broadway, but if you don't see it now, you won't get to see Cristin Milioti, who is giving the kind of performance that in a just world would do for her what "Venus in Fur" did for Nina Arianda. What she does in "Once" would be worth seeing even if the show were less good than it is.

Not much happens in "Once," which is set in a Dublin pub and whose principal characters, Steve Kazee and Ms. Milioti, are identified only as "Guy" and "Girl." Guy is a singer-songwriter who lives with his father (David Patrick Kelly) and fixes vacuum cleaners for a living. He got dumped by his girlfriend, wrote a bunch of songs about the breakup, and sings them on the street. Just when he starts to lose faith in his talent, he meets Girl, an abrupt, intense Czech émigré who is sincere to the point of humorlessness ("I'm always serious--I'm Czech"). She loves his songs and encourages him to make a demo record, become famous and win back his girlfriend.

Naturally they fall for each other, but...I'd better stop there. It's enough to say that Guy and Girl may or may not be destined to live happily ever after, and that "Once" portrays their should-we-shouldn't-we difficulties with unexpected honesty. Here as in the film, the emphasis is on characterization, not action, and while Enda Walsh, who wrote the book, has spelled out much of what was implied in John Carney's screenplay, he's done so in a way that is anything but heavy-handed.

John Tiffany has staged "Once" with appropriate simplicity on an unpretentious set designed by Bob Crowley. The members of the 13-person cast double as the onstage orchestra, and their performances are as plain-spoken as the show itself.


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Posted by at March 23, 2012 6:03 AM
  

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