Photos – Jeff Busby
After the recent spate of musical revivals that have been rolled out in Melbourne, it is with open arms that we are able to welcome the Australian premiere of a 'new' musical – Once.
Based on a small-budget film, Once has been adapted to the stage, and like the film, is set to capture the hearts of the many romantically minded out there. I am not describing this as a women's show, but I think you can work out the demographic that it is aimed at.
While I have not seen the film, it seems to have been very closely adapted by the original creators Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (both wrote music and lyrics). Irish playwright Enda Walsh has skilfully crafted an engaging book, along with the film's writer/director John Carney.
Briefly the story deals with two strangers (referred to as Guy and Girl), a young Czech girl and a heartbroken Irish busker, who meet, and through their love of music, find themselves connected to each other. The story evolves over the course of just a few days.
This is a show without any grand designs or special effects. It is a simple bitter-sweet tale about ordinary people who make a difference in each other's lives, and of course the power of music.
John Tiffany has done a brilliant job in staging this in a very imaginative way (the set is essentially an Irish Pub), using choreography and lighting effects to illuminate the story, with minimal props.
Bob Crowley's design and Natasha Katz's lighting contibute enormously to the overall effect the performance has on the audience.
I saw this show just a few weeks ago overseas and still fresh in my mind, can say that I enjoyed the Australian production enormously.
The cast of thirteen, most of whom double up as musicians, are collectively a fine bunch of very talented performers. It is difficult to single out individuals, but Brent Hill (who has to switch from a Czech to an Irish accent in a blink), Greg Stone (who delivers a beautiful musical rendition of the poem On Raglan Road at the top of the show), Susan-ann Walker as Baruska, Amy Lehpamer as Reza, and Anton Berezin as a bank manager, all have moments to shine.
As the leads (which seems to have been difficult to cast), UK actor Tom Parsons brings a necessary charm and vulnerability to the role of Guy, while Madeleine Jones absoultey shines as the Girl. From her first entrance onto the stage, Jones's Girl is the driving force – funny, sad and full of wisdom.
The negatives: Once is really an intimate musical (the audience is invited onstage before and during interval) to enjoy a drink from the 'pub'), so feels a little lost in the grand Princess Theatre. It should really have been placed in a smaller venue.
While there is a lot of humour in Walsh's writing, Act One really has the best bits. The pace slows in the second Act and the ending, when it comes, seems sudden and inconclusive. While most of the songs and music are beautifully written, there is a sameness and a repetitiveness that lingers.
Once may not appeal to everyone, but it does have a heart and soul that seems to touch a lot of people. Judging by the audience on the opening night, there is much to fall in love with.
John Frost, Barbara Broccoli, John N. Hart Jr, Patrick Mulling Smith, Frederick Zollo and Melbourne Theatre Company present
playwright Enda Walsh | music and lyrics Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Director John Tiffany
Venue: Princess Theatre Melbourne
Dates: October 4 – November 9, 2014