In 2006, Once was a tiny indie movie that went on to win an Oscar for best song and became a Broadway musical that won a pile of Tonys, including Best Musical, a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, and some Oliviers. The Australian version of this production opened in Melbourne on Saturday and, as the ovation still echoes through the city, it’s on track to being the musical of the year.
If you’ve never fallen in love with a musical, Once could be the one to charm your pants off.
With a story that starts and leads with characters as real as your friends and family, it ignores music theatre expectations of expensive spectacle, glittery sets and predictable story to create a show made from guts, heart and passion.
Set in Dublin, a “guy” is ready to give up on his music and fix vacuums when a “girl” hears him play and spends the next five days reminding him of the love and feelings that created his music in the first place. Gathering friends and a bank manager with a heart, a band is formed and the recording studio is booked.
Led by Tom Parsons and Madeleine Jones, the cast is a mix of well-known and on-their-way-to-being-well-known faces. Greg Stone and Susan-ann Walker ground the story as a still-grieving dad and a mum wanting her daughter to be happy, Amy Lehpamer and Brent Hill bring lightness and laughs, and there isn’t anyone in the cast who isn’t unforgettable.
The Tony-winning design (Bob Crowley, who also designed the Mary Poppins that toured Australia) is an Irish bar decorated with mirrors that catch faces and bodies to make any part of the stage its own framable moment. None of the story takes place in a bar, but it’s the traditional home of craic and music, and the audience are welcome on stage before the show and during interval. If you’ve ever wondered what a theatre looks like from up there, this is your chance.
The original music (by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, from the film) is the kind of gentle-sad-indie pop-rock that’s best enjoyed with a pint of the black stuff on a date, and is played by the cast of 12 who rarely leave the stage. With no separation between musicians, singers and actors, director John Tiffany (who also won a Tony) ensures that there’s no chance for the music, lyrics and action to be separated from the characters and their story (John Carney wrote the film; Enda Walsh wrote the book and won a Tony).
And while the music’s endlessly singable and the cast are captivating, it’s the story that catches your heart unaware.
Once isn’t enough.