The story primarily belongs to two delightful and appealing young characters, Guy (Stuart Ward), a talented and handsome, but disillusioned Irish musician/busker and the quirky, cute, lovable, highly energized and supportive Czech immigrant girl (Dani de Waal). She meets him in Dublin where she dedicates herself to encouraging him to continue his musical career. They are both lonely, troubled people, who find a common bond through song. Over the course of one week, these two extremely likeable characters develop a complicated but intriguing relationship.
This highly unusual, but most appealing musical is brilliantly and very economically produced, especially for a Broadway musical. There is absolutely no glitz, glamour, tits or ass to be seen anywhere on the Once stage. There is nothing even close to the traditional big Broadway musical dance numbers in this stunning production, other than some extremely clever, production-appropriate, creative ensemble, minimalist movement by choreographer Steven Hoggett who seemed determined to give us something wonderfully different.
And, there is only one, very modest, sedate set created by an ingenious Bob Crowley. This set very shrewdly serves double duty. It is an almost perfect recreation of an Irish pub where the most agile cast inhabit its every possible nook & cranny boisterously bouncing from song to song. But this very same setting is also used by the audience before the show and during intermission (yes, on stage) as a legit bar serving drinks.
While there are a fair number of props and minor set pieces in this production, what makes them unusual is that they are smoothly moved on and off the stage by the 12 extremely versatile, multi-talented cast members, who not only serve as stage hands, but also play the various characters in the script AND perform as the musicians in an orchestra which is entirely composed of acoustic instruments, such as violins, piano, drums of various sorts and guitars. In fact, everything and I mean everything in this grounded and very entertaining production is unusually simple, (not simplistic) yet highly relevant and affective.
Even the plot is straightforward/simple and at times border line cliché/ saccharined. Nevertheless, in the hands of John Tiffany’s direction, it works beautifully.
Stuart Ward is outstanding as Guy. Dani de Waal as the character simply called The Girl, is very comfortably his equal.
The plot of Girl believing in Guy and doing her utmost to support him, could have descended into cliche. But in this production, this actress and this director magically make it work.
The exquisite music in this production is a melange of very palatable and emotion-laden pop and folk ballads, plus Irish up-tempo jig and Russian-based, Eastern European kazatzky, heel-slapping Cossack tunes. And the audience adores every last minute of the music, the harmonies, the story and the characters. All aspects of this production have got genuine heart and soul. In particular, the show-stopping hit song, “Falling Slowly,” will win you over, even if you've got a heart of steel.
This play resonates with its audience at all levels because it is comfortably different, poignant, authentic, down to earth and human.
Lastly, but still under the heading of unusual, I have never seen any other professionally produced piece of theatre with as many intentional lengthy and affective pauses in it as this musical (except, of course, for most Pinter and Beckett plays).
All by way of saying, this stunning production is a winner in my books and I perfectly understand why it won the Tony award last year for best musical.