There is something so stirring and emotional about strings, especially in Irish music. In Once the Musical, a song will often start on a darkish stage with a single guitar, under a single pool of light. Then, slowly, other musicians, violins, cellos and mandolins, and then percussion will join, until the stage is swelling with music, dance and unfettered joy.

The show is based on low key and hugely successful film by Writer/Director John Carney and composers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It is a love story about the redemptive power of music.

Playwright Enda Walsh adapted it into a musical, upping the wit and verve, whilst staying true to the authenticity, romance and charm of the film.

Just as Dublin musician, Guy (played by Toby Francis) is at his lowest ebb and is about to give up on his dream, Girl appears. Girl (played by Stephanie Caccomo) is a forthright Czech pianist who instantly loves his music and gives him the courage to keep going.

Within minutes of meeting, they have a duet, Falling Slowly, that is so romantic and beautifully performed by Francis and Caccomo that it sent shivers down my spine. It is unusual to have such a moving piece so early in a show and it perfectly captures the instant connection between the two characters. It was love at the first duet for the audience too. They/we were so thoroughly entranced by it they whooped, laughed and cheered throughout the rest of the show.

Once is the opposite of the pageantry of the Lloyd Webber and Disney era musicals. It is a different form to what you might expect. There is no orchestra pit and the uniformly talented cast not only act, dance and sing but also play the instruments on stage. It is unpretentious and without glitz or razzamatazz, but it dazzles with exhilarating energy.

While largely comprising beautiful, melodic ballads and rousing Irish folk songs, the score reflects the background of both composers by including Czech folk music. One of the standouts, however, was the exquisitely sung a cappella piece, Gold. It shifts the pacing towards the end of the show and perfectly sets the more solemn tone of the scenes to come.

Everything about this production hits the mark. Director, Richard Carroll, Movement Director, Amy Campbell, Musical Director, Victoria Falconer and Lighting Designer, Peter Rubie have created a production which is tight and imaginative. Richard Carroll successfully brings light and shade, sensitively directing the two romantic leads. Equally, he is marvellous at bringing out the comedy in the boisterous ensemble scenes.    

The ensemble is often responsible for the scene changes as they burst on stage like a Greek chorus, singing and playing their instruments. Other transitions occur through Rubie’s masterful changing pools of light in different areas of the stage, fading one set of actors in and another set out.

There are no big “musical theatre” dance routines, but the show is nevertheless impressively choreographed. Campbell moves the irrepressible chorus of musicians to create a gusto that drives the production.

All the performances are a joy. Toby Francis’s gentle, reticent Guy is a lovely foil for Caccomo’s assured and competent Girl. Rupert Reid, Drew Livingston, Abe Mitchell, Ruby Clark, Pavan Kumar Hari and Emma Price were all hilarious.

Once is a wonderfully uplifting and touching musical. It is both an ode to Irish culture with its stirring, emotional music, humour and warmth, and a call to be brave; to seize the day. This combination is what makes the show feel so inspiring.

Event details

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents
Once the Musical
book Enda Walsh | music & lyrics Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová | based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney

Director Richard Carroll

Venue: Eternity Playhouse | 39 Burton St, Darlinghurst NSW
Dates: 24 June - 14 August 2022


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