(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)
Translating stories between genres can be tricky: moving from album to musical or musical to film or some combination therein doesn’t always work. But sometimes the transformation is truly magical.
“Once,” the Broadway show adapted from the 2007 film of the same title, is an absolutely marvelous evolution.
Brought to Austin by Broadway Across America and playing through Sunday at Bass Concert Hall, “Once” is one of the most charming and novel musicals we’ve had to town in quite some time.
Without any of the typical Broadway spectacle (no big dance numbers, flashy costumes, or complicated set pieces), “Once” takes an intimate story and keeps it warm, dynamic, and engaging. It’s not hard to understand why the show took home a slew of awards – dominating the Tonys in 2012 and taking home a Grammy in 2013.
It’s the story of a Guy (Stuart Ward) who meets a Girl (Dani de Waal) as he sings his heart out on the streets of Dublin. Ready to give up on music, he almost walks away from his guitar and his dreams, but she pulls him back and sets him on course.
The music in the show is outstanding, and it’s unique in that each of the performers is also a musician. The orchestra, as it were, is part of the performance, and the ensemble works together in a beautiful and melodic symbiosis.
Ward captivates the audience and de Waal, and the lead actress’ charm infuses the whole production. Evan Harrington (Billy) is hilarious and huggable. Matt DeAngelis (Švec) channels the Muppets’ Animal as he tackles the drum set but offers perfectly subdued accompaniment when it isn’t his scene.
Alex Nee (Andrej) is adorable in his vacillation between optimism and despair, and Erica Swindell (Réza) seduces cast and audience alike with her character and her violin.
John Tiffany’s directing includes remarkable and effective choices – frequently having the actors turn their backs to the audience. This pairs well with Bob Crowley’s gorgeous set design, which creates a cozy Irish pub, filled with mirrors and Natasha Katz’s clever “candlelit” ambiance.
Consequently, the show is tremendously welcoming – going so far as to invite the audience onstage to buy a drink beforehand and during intermission.
It’s a shame that on opening night the voice microphones weren’t properly tuned in, so a lot of the lyrics were drowned in the music. But if that’s the only real complaint, it says a lot about the high quality of this production.
“Once” continues through March 1 at Bass Concert Hall. www.texasperformingarts.org