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‘Once’ is like nothing you’ve seen before

Featuring an impressive ensemble of actors/musicians who play their own instruments onstage, “Once” tells the enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who’s about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs.

Joan Marcus

“Once,” the musical, will come to the Kent State Tuscarawas Performing Arts Center on March 28 at 7 p.m. It is not a standard Broadway musical. There is no orchestra pit. There are no spectacular, constantly changing sets. The costumes aren’t lavish, and the story isn’t one to put a light chuckle in your heart. The singing doesn’t bring soaring tenor numbers from the throats of operatic belters but rather heart-wrenching songs pulled from deep in the psyche, delivered via the gut of the character.

It is a raw, grand tale of wavering dreams, old prejudices, unrequited love and human determination, told in a way you’ve likely never experienced. “Once” involves the audience in the story even before the show begins and doesn’t let go of your heart until the last note trails over the hushed crowd.

The musical is based on a 2007 film with the same title, and the 2012 Broadway stage production brought eight Tony Awards against 11 nominations including Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Book. It has enjoyed worldwide success in numerous incarnations.

As you find your seat, the preshow action has already begun. “Once” is set primarily in a Dublin pub, and the set functions as a working bar for a fortunate few audience members brought onto the stage to have a brew and enjoy music played by the cast in their midst. The effect is to draw you into the action from the outset. As the show begins, patrons are taken to their seats almost unnoticeably and the play commences.

The cast is made up of remarkably talented musicians who play the accompanying music onstage as part of the action, something that seems difficult to pull off but the cast of “Once” does so remarkably well. You quickly accept this device, and it makes sense as the story moves along. The show has a rather large cast, and the pub set is lined with small chairs against the sidewalls. As the musicians aren’t needed, they remain onstage and take seats at the edges, out of the light. You quickly forget they are there.

“Guy,” the only name by which we know him, is ready to pack in his musical dreams and give up. Wailing out one final tune of regret, “Leave,” he tucks his guitar into its case and turns to leave it behind him on the floor.

Seeing this, “Girl,” also a musical talent and Czech, asks him questions and learns that his heart is irreparably broken. He is giving up his music and returning to his father’s vacuum repair shop, and that’s that. She produces a vacuum that “doesn’t suck” and will pay for its repair by playing piano for him. They play a duet. He now owes her a repair, and their relationship begins.

We learn that Girl has a daughter and that she and her husband are estranged. Guy’s broken heart is the result of a girlfriend who moved to New York to follow her own dreams.

Can a young tormented man with an outsized musical talent and his newfound muse with a beautiful soul find their way? What new heartbreak lies ahead?

“Once” leads the audience through this very human story with a firm grip on every heart fortunate enough to be a part of it, allowing participation in the soaring joys and unplumbed depths.

“Once” is unlike anything I’ve seen on the stage. You may recognize a few of the tunes including the hit “Falling Slowly.” All of this production is executed with imagination, energy and raw talent worn right out front, unashamedly and fiercely.

Tickets for “Once” are available from the PAC at www.kent.edu/tusc/pac.

Published: March 17, 2017
New Article ID: 2017703179993