The musical “Once” has filled the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto this holiday season. It has become so popular that David Mirvish has added five extra performances, including two afternoon shows this week and another next Sunday evening.
“Once” is a true story of a Dublin street busker who meets a young woman from the Czech Republic. He is despairing of the future of his musical career. She is enchanted by the musicality and passion of the love songs he has written. A trained musician herself, she decides to take him on. She learns how he came to write the music, enhances it with her own piano adaptations, brings in other buskers to add instruments, buys him a new suit, arranges for him to get a bank loan, and sets up a 24-hour recording session to produce a demonstration cd. All in a matter of days. The music they make is wonderful.
Equally intriguing is the development of the relationship between “Guy” and “Girl,” as they are called in the play. The music brings them together, but love is complicated.
In real life, the musical film “Once,” made in 2006 and directed by Jim Carney, starred musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who wrote all the original songs. It is their story which is told in the movie and the play. As Christopher Hoile noted in his Stage Door review: “This is not a musical about special effects or spectacular sets and costumes, but merely true-to-life, complex emotions communicated through music.”
The movie was made on a shoestring, went on to win audience favourite awards at the 2007 Sundance and Dublin Film Festivals, took the 2007 Academy Award for the best original song (“Falling Slowly”), and eventually grossed over $20 million worldwide. The soundtrack was released the same year to great acclaim. The movie was adapted to the stage in 2011, opened on Broadway in March 2012, and won eight Tony awards that year, including Best Musical. The National Tour Production which is showing in Toronto stars British actor/singer-songwriter Stuart Ward as “Guy” and “Mamma Mia” alumna, Dani de Waal, as “Girl.” Both are heart-warming characters who engage us immediately.
A musical with primary focus on the music and the characters is a refreshing change. The entire play is set within a Dublin bar where drinks are available to the audience before the performance and at intermission. The action is conveyed by using tables or moving the piano. The remaining cast are amusing, talented actors and skilled musicians who double as the orchestra. The simplicity of the concept adds to the intimacy and power of the production.
Forgive the segue, but the play does act out Jack Layton’s adage that “Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.” Not a bad maxim for the new year. Happy New Year, everyone.