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Stage version of "Once" is a gentle gem
The charm of "Once," the film, was its gentle and quiet intimacy -- a virtue that's hardly synonymous with big Broadway shows.
But fortunately "Once," the musical -- which runs through Feb. 15 at Detroit's Fisher Theatre -- is an exception. The show, which won eight Tony Awards, stays subtle and eschews bombast and, like its cinematic counterpart, lets the story unfold at its own easy pace, cared for by a crack 12-member cast of actor-singer-musicians who slide through the show with a disarmingly light but impactful touch.
That story hews fairly close to John Carney's low-budget 2007 film about Guy, a lovelorn troubadour and vacuum cleaner repairman in Dublin, Ireland, who finds his muse and spiritual revival in Girl, a Czechoslovakian immigrant and a musician herself who reawakens Guy's soul as well as his creativity. Their wary slow dance around each other provides a vivid context for the songs, and while we pine for them to get together...well, let's just say the resolution is satisfactory.
Edna Walsh's book does tweak aspects of the movie, changing some details and going more for laughs, and certainly can't be as affecting as big screen close-ups. But the actors -- particularly leads Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal -- effectively project with small gestures and full body language. de Waal in particular demonstrates spot-on timing that allows Girl's droll directness to drive the show. And together she and Ward click in conveying their characters' chemistry and a lust for each other that's more than physical.
They're aided in that by a support cast that does plenty of heavy lifting -- literally and figuratively, as the actors move set pieces on and off the stage during a series of clever transitions -- and frames the songs of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova with careful ensemble arrangements that are often lusher than the original versions but never over the top. A hushed, a capella reprise of "Gold" is as stunning as anything you'll ever hear on a live theater stage, while the finale reprise of "Falling Slowly" enjoys a new kind of richness but doesn't stray from the familiar tune that won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Ultimately "Once" champions warmth over spectacle and the resilience of the human spirit -- if it's open to a little help. It's a gentle gem that feels like a comfortable pair of slippers rather than, say, some kinky boots.
And, by the way, make sure you take advantage of the open stage before the show and during intermission, complete with an operational bar and a pre-show concert by the cast. It's a rare chance to bond with production that enriches this particular theater experience.
"Once -- A New Musical"
Through Feb. 15
Fisher Theatre in the Fisher Building, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit
Tickets are $35-$125
Call 313-872-1000 or visit www.broadwayindetroit.com for showtimes and ticket details.
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