Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tickets: $59.50 - $186.50
In 2006, writer-director John Carney had a surprise hit with his intimate low-budget drama Once, the touching story of an Irish vacuum repairman (musician Glen Hansard of the Frames) and a Czech flower seller (singer-songwriter Markéta Irglová) who meet in Dublin and make beautiful music together. Hansard and Irglová won the Oscar for Best Original Song for the ballad “Falling Slowly,” and the duo went on to form the band the Swell Season. The film has now been turned into a Broadway musical directed by John Tiffany (Black Watch) and with a book by playwright Enda Walsh (The Walworth Farce), but in expanding the eighty-five-minute movie into a two-and-a-half-hour show, they have stretched the story way too thin. Once actually begins twenty minutes before curtain time, when ticket holders are invited to buy a drink onstage as the house band plays traditional tunes amid Bob Crowley’s set, the interior of a pub shaped like a half-moon with more than seventy mirrors hanging on the walls, centered by a large rectangular one right in the middle. Steve Kazee (Spamalot) and Cristin Milioti (The Lieutenant of Inishmore) play the Guy and the Girl, two lonely souls, he a shy guitarist who works in his father’s shop, she a very direct pianist surrounded by family and friends but missing something in her life. Girl instantly becomes Guy’s muse, encouraging him to not give up on his music, which she thinks can make him a success in New York. As they spend more and more time together, their unrequited love begins to overwhelm them.
Kazee and Milioti are terrific in the lead roles, forming a believable team that audiences will pull for not only as a musical pair but hopefully as a romantic one as well. The staging is also excellent, with everything taking place on the same set with small furniture changes signaling such other locations as a piano shop, a recording studio, and Guy’s and Girl’s apartments. Whenever the Girl speaks in Czech, she actually says the words in English, with the Czech translation projected onto the top of the bar, which leads to a memorable moment when she discusses love with the Guy. The members of the house band double as the show’s minor characters, sitting on chairs on either side of the stage until their participation is required. But while some of these characters offer fine support, particularly David Patrick Kelly as the Guy’s father and Elizabeth A. Davis as the Girl’s sexy friend Réza, others drain the show of its subtle intimacy, , with silly, repetitive, over-the-top comic relief from Paul Whitty as the owner of the piano store and Andy Taylor as a bank manager. In addition, much of the second act feels added on and repetitive, including reprises of songs. The score features such familiar tunes from the film as “Falling Slowly,” “If You Want Me,” “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy,” “Gold,” and “The Hill” as well as several new ones; the production admirably doesn’t Broadway-fy the music or lapse into over-choreographed dance numbers, keeping things relatively simply for the most part. There’s a lot to like about Once, and fans of the film are likely to be charmed. But there’s also a lot that could have been trimmed, paying heed to the more personal warmth and honesty of the original.