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Saturday, 31 March 2012 11:24

Broadway Review: ONCE

Written by
Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti Photo: Joan Marcus

Just when I was thinking I was going to have to stab my eyes out because another movie is being turned into another mediocre Broadway musical,  something special comes along.  For Once, the musical is worthy of the film that spawned it.  This movie-musical has been seamlessly fashioned into a lovely, charming musical.  The creators have found a workable balance of what might normally have been too many downer songs, added a lively comedic book, a few high-octane Irish step-dancing numbers, and a cast that won’t quit, and they have come up with a gem.

Once began life as a 2007 Irish film with music, written and directed by John Carney.  It was then developed at American Repertory Theatre as a musical and was a hit last year at off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop.

Once stars Steve Kazee as "Guy" and Criston Miliotias "Girl."  "Guy" is a bit of a sad-sack who lives at home with his Da over their Hoover repair shop in the North Strand.  He and his girlfriend have split up and he is about to give up on his second love, music, until he meets "Girl." Kazee has a beautiful voice with a wonderful tone.  But don’t be deceived, he can also cut-loose with a throaty growl when needed (“Say It To Me Now”).  He also plays a mean guitar.

As “Girl,” Ms. Milioti is abrupt and quirky.  Her vocal style has a plaintive quality to it.  When she sings “The Hill,” laying bare her character's soul, it’s haunting.  She is center stage accompanying herself on the piano.  “Girl” is Czech and her heavily accented English gives an abrupt and comedic edge to her character.  “Guy” has agreed to fix her broken vacuum in exchange for music.  When he tries to leave before he has fixed her vacuum she bluntly cries “The transaction is not complete until you have made the Hoover suck!”  

Kazee and Milioti have a charming chemistry together.  Both of their characters are in, or just out of,  other relationships.  His he describes as “over.”  After he describes how she left with another man, “Girl” suggests that he kill the man with whom she left.  When he asks her if she is serious, her response: “Yeah. I’m always serious – I’m Czech.”

The musical is slightly ballad heavy, though Glen Hansard  and Markéta Irglová have thrown in a couple of novelty numbers like “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” and “Abandoned in Bandon” to keep things interesting.  The a capella version of “Gold” is breathtaking.  The book, by playwright Enda Walsh, nicely ties together the numbers in a cohesive story-arc that begins with the excitement of meeting that stranger who might just be “the one,” to the sadness of finding out it isn’t to be.

The cast is comprised of 12 actors/musicians, the two principals, and 10 actors in the chorus who also play minor roles.  Everyone in the chorus plays instruments, some of them even double and triple on instruments.  And when they all come together and play, banging on apple boxes for percussion, they are a wonder to behold.  This is a talented cast.

The unit set by Bob Crowley is a semi-circular bar facing the audience.  The walls are lined with mirrors. Up-center there is a large mirror angled towards the stage to reflect the action at the center of the stage.  Director John Tiffany uses the mirror to perfect effect, heightened by Natasha Katz’s stellar lighting.

If you have seen the movie, you might be surprised to learn that the 87-minute long movie has been turned into a 2-1/2 hour musical, yet you never notice the time.  They have added or replaced a couple of numbers (“The Moon,” “Ej, Pada, Pada, Rosicka” and the aforementioned “Abandoned in Bandon”), and shuffled a bunch of numbers from their original order in the film.  I’m only sorry that the vacuum cleaner didn’t quite become the character it was in the film. During the first third of the movie we watch as "Girl" drags the bright blue vacuum around behind her through Dublin's streets and even on the bus.

Congratulations to Mr. Tiffany and the entire cast and creative team.  They have made this ballad-heavy movie-musical a sweet and simple new stage musical that thankfully never gets bogged down in its own self-pity.

View Complete Production Credits at

Additional Info

  • Theatre: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 242 West 45th St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Musical
Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2015 03:36