This week, the incredible musical “Once”, arrived in York for the very first time. Following critical success in 2012 on Broadway, to acclaim on the West End in London, Once is billed as a must see show, and it did not disappoint. Once embarks on its first major UK tour after acclaimed runs on Broadway and in the West End, and having won awards across the world including the Academy Award for Best Original Song, a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album, eight Tony Awards and an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music.
First a cult, micro-budget Irish film written and directed by John Carney in 2007, then a Broadway, West End and Dublin show, Once The Musical tells the uplifting yet yearning story of the hopes and dreams of two lost souls, a jilted Dublin street busker and a more positive Czech musician, who unexpectedly fall in love across five short days in the Southern Irish capital city.
The touring cast of 16 was led by Scotsman Dan Healy as Guy and Emma Lucia, from Durham, as Girl. The busking musical tells the story of their mutual love and talent for playing and singing musical numbers. They embark on a journey to record a set of their original songs, and whilst at the start, Guy is ready to quit music, his meeting of Girl renews his energy and makes him realise his dream. It’s a story of love, heart and music.
And it has to be said, the music is just outstanding; with many of the tracks from the original movie soundtrack. Billed as a “musical”, I was sceptical as to the quality of the music, as ironically, musicals often produce artless, heartless music, but this was completely different. With 16 musician/actors on stage, all talented individuals, this felt more like a Friday night in central Dublin rather than a Tuesday in York’s theatre.
As mentioned, Once does retain songs written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova they’re expanded on by the brilliant. Enda Walsh. Before the show even starts all musicians are out on stage playing their celidh style music, having fun and warming the crowd up for what was to come. Then from the opening moments of “Falling Slowly” right through to the finale, it was a genuine delight to be in the crowd. The staging, the bar, and the way the musicians are placed mean every song feels wholly natural and not forced into the storyline. One of the big criticisms I’ve made of modern “musicals” is they don’t allow music to tell the story; in Once, this just isn’t the case and I wanted, for the first time, more music than dialogue.
Healy and Lucia are superb, their chemistry, vocal ability and musical prowess make for excellent viewing, but the entire cast contribute to the entertainment. Through all of the individual brilliance on stage though, Healy in particular, it is the a capella reprise of ‘Gold’, which stands out the most to me. Every single voice shone through in the song, and the audience was encapsulated by what they were witnessing. This didn’t feel in that moment like you were watching a touring show, it felt like you were watching the greatest piece of musical theatre ever written.
I have one criticism though; I am scared I’m going to become a Once addict! Whilst it isn’t the fastest paced musical, the way in which the story is told, and the music is performed made me want to immediately watch it from the beginning again. Once was superb; humour, musicianship and top quality acting, nothing more needs adding here.
Photo credit: Mark Senior