Chicago Theatre Review
A Musical Valentine From the Heart
Once – Broadway in Chicago
It’s simple perfection. There’s nothing more to be said about this new touring version of 2012’s eight time Tony Award-winning musical, based on the 2007 film of the same name. With a book by award-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the same team that created the film’s lovely musical score (including the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly”), this play is quite simply a theatrical valentine. It celebrates the power of music and the purity of love between all kinds of people. As smart and heartbreakingly gorgeous as the original Broadway production, this National Tour, which returns to Chicago for only one week, demands to be experienced.
In Dublin, Guy, an aspiring, young Irish songwriter, who’s on the verge of throwing in the towel and walking away from his music, his dreams and possibly his life fortuitously encounters the musically appreciative young Czech known simply as, Girl. Just as he’s playing what might be his last composition she strikes up a conversation with him. She invites Guy to join her at her friend Billy’s music store, where she repays him for repairing her vacuum cleaner by playing some Mendelssohn on the store’s piano. She urges Guy to play more of his compositions and then, impressed and moved by his music, encourages him to not only continue composing but to record a demo CD to be sent to America. A deep love develops between the two that is so real, so transcendent that it touches every single audience member. Side stories emerge involving Baruska,
the girl’s mother, Ivanka, her 8-year old daughter, young Andrej and the other Czech expat family and friends sharing her life. We get to know and love Guy’s father, Da, Billy, the eccentric music store owner, the Bank Manager, a fellow musician, who provides backing for the recording session, as well as a small community of Irish musicians, all deftly woven throughout this love story. This is a down-to-earth, unpretentious musical whose spectacle comes from its honesty and simplicity. Much of the production’s beauty comes, not only from the show’s soulful music, but in those truthful looks and meaningful silences director John Tiffany has staged so wisely during the scene transitions. Steven Hoggett’s inventive, organically-created choreography serves to heighten the emotional drama of the production. And certainly Hansard and Irglova’s gorgeous score, filled with robust Irish and Czechoslovakian folk music and plaintive, melancholy love songs is wonderful. Set within and above Bob Crowley’s authentically designed Irish pub, the musical plays out like a group of instrument wielding storytellers gathering to share a tale of love’s angst.
A Northwestern University alum, Alex Nee is perfect as Guy. Usually portraying the young Czech, Andrej, this handsome actor/singer, who’s also a firebrand on the guitar, steps into the leading role from June 2-4, after which Ryan Link resumes the role of Guy for the remainder of the Chicago run. Mr. Nee’s expressive face says everything that his music and dialogue forgets, particularly in one quiet scene during which he and the Girl share a few moments, while overlooking their city of Dublin. Dani de Waal, who was Girl in the previous Chicago tour, as well as Sophie in the West End’s “Mamma Mia!” is even better this visit. She and Mr. Ward have developed an even stronger chemistry together in this production. Ms. de Waal’s musicality as a singer and pianist is unquestionable; as a comic actress, she garners most of the show’s laughs with her deadpan delivery. The rest of the cast is equally terrific: Scott Waara’s empathetic Da (masterful on the mandolin), Tina Stafford’s feisty, loving, accordion-wielding Baruska, Alex Nee’s soulful Andrej, Evan Harrington’s touchingly funny, magnificently-honest Billy and Benjamin Magnuson’s kind, but touchingly insecure Bank Manager. And while every single cast member is an accomplished musician and vocalist, Erica Spyres and Erica Swindell both stand out on violin.
This touring production is in Chicago for only a one week stay. If you haven’t seen it, do not miss it. If you’ve seen it only one time, it’s even better on a second (or third) viewing. This musical strips away the unnecessary gimmicks and special effects often found in musicals these days, confidently relying on its character driven story to provide all the magic. It’s a “Once” in a lifetime theatrical pleasure that will remind you how honest straightforward storytelling can become a spiritual experience.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 2-7 by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, at all Ticketmaster locations, by calling the Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.