Blockbuster Hollywood movies aren't the only ones getting the musical-theater treatment. Once, a quirky, warmhearted little Irish film that was the surprise Oscar winner for 2007's Best Original Song, has arrived on Broadway with the same low-key tenderness as its source material. It's intimately rewarding, despite occasionally meandering into strained cleverness, and hopefully won't get lost amid the wave of big new musicals that crash Broadway each spring.
Once is the oddly enchanting story of a young man and woman, known as Guy and Girl, brought together by their love of music. Girl (Cristin Milioti), a Czech immigrant, catches Guy (Steve Kazee) singing one of his songs on a Dublin street and pushes him—sometimes a tad forcefully—to take chances in music and love. While the pull between these protagonists—both tormented by past loves—is palpable, their journeys are unexpected and achingly real. And, most refreshing, what follows is no paint-by-numbers love story.
Director John Tiffany and choreographer Steven Hoggett (who's credited with "movement") let the stirring songs—written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who starred in the film version—drive the story. "If You Want Me," "When Your Mind's Made Up" and the Oscar-winning "Falling Slowly" are highlights. The cast is also the band, with actors playing instruments and becoming a vocal and dance ensemble when they're not in scenes.
As lovely as all of this is, it's not always enough to fill a two-act show with a two-and-a-half hour running time. Book writer Enda Walsh's "comic relief" scenes, in which featured characters such as music-store owner (Paul Whitty) and a bank manager (Andy Taylor)—part of the motley band of musicians assembled to help Guy record his demo—quarrel, play like filler, through no fault of the actors. Fortunately, the focus never strays too far from Guy and Girl for very long, and watching Kazee and Milioti act out their duet of desire and indecision to Once's hypnotic score makes you aware of how love, music and musical theater can move you in unexpected ways.
BY DIANE SNYDER
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Steve Kazee, Cristin Milioti, David Abeles, Claire Candela, Will Connolly, Elizabeth A. Davis, David Patrick Kelly, Anne L. Nathan, Lucas Papaelias, Andy Taylor, Erikka Walsh, Paul Whitty, J. Michael Zygo
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th St.
Neighborhood: West 40s
New York, NY 10036
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