If you are looking to be charmed and captivated by foot-stomping Irish music, lilting ballads, a bittersweet emotionally honest love story with a book that is also very wry and funny, and an ensemble cast perfectly in tune with the music and each other, MusicalFare Theatre is the place for you right now. Once, the Tony award-winning musical stage adaptation of the Irish movie, with book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova is on stage in a flawless production that will have you dancing in your seat.
A nameless girl (Renee Landrigan) hears a street musician (Steve Copps) sing a bitter song about loss and is captivated by his music, and perhaps also his broad shoulders. He is an angry, depressed Irish Hoover fixer; she is a delightful Czech with a broken Hoover–it won’t suck. She flits around him, cajoling and cheering him on to continue with his music, promising him a song in payment for fixing said Hoover. They go to a music store where she has permission to play the piano by the smitten and passionately Dubliner owner, Billy (Philip Farugia). She becomes muse to the disaffected broad-shouldered one, who gradually warms to her entreaties. Of course, there are complications…
Before all that happens, we are treated to drinks at the bar and a tune or two by the ensemble. The set, beautifully designed by Chris Cavanagh, is an Irish pub with bare red brick walls, red and cream tiled floor, a long bar upstage with a few tables and chairs that serve as bedrooms, living rooms, and a bank, as well as the bar. Guinness signs and musical instruments hang on the walls. It has a warm, welcoming feel that is very much in keeping with the tone of the evening.
Renee Landrigan and Steve Copps are superb in their roles. She has a gamine, elfin appeal that is counterpoint to his morose, brooding presence. Her voice and piano playing are sweet and gentle while at the same time carry a depth of feeling that is powerful and compelling. And she is a fine comic actress, as well. We see Mr. Copps gradually open his heart through his revealing and powerful songs and his attraction to the Czech girl who seduces him into waking up to life through her infectious optimism and love of music. His voice is strong, masculine, and passionate as he slowly rejoins the living.
Philip Farugia is a hoot as Billy, whose unrequited love for the girl is both sweet and hilarious. Mr. Farugia lets it all hang out in his encounters with the buttoned-down banker, played with a prissy charm by Jacob Albarella. Amy Jakiel is great fun as the tough-sexy Reza, who uses her considerable assets to seduce Billy into letting the musicians use his drums. And she plays a mean cello, to boot. Nick Stevens adds a bit of slapstick as the overheated Andrej. Theresa Quinn as Barushka, the girl’s mother, has a droll monolog complete with Czech supertitles that epitomizes Eastern European pessimistic humor. She is also the Music Director and has done a bang-up job of assembling a group of musicians that are worthy of their material and more than capable of presenting it.
Songs include the Oscar winner, Falling Slowly, and the love song, Gold, that walks on moonbeams and stares out to sea. The A Capella version in Act 2 is heart-rending. In between are Irish instrumentals and songs with lyrics that traverse the guy and girl’s psyches and longings.
Direction is by Artistic/Executive Director Randall Kramer. His cast is stellar. His use of precision movement by the musician/actors as they change sets, play their music and interact with each other contributes to the atmosphere that is such an important element of this musical. He gives the supporting actors a moment that belongs just to each of them but is very much a part of the whole.
The entire production of Once at MusicalFare Theatre shimmers and shines with warmth, humor and depth, and flows with graceful movement. It is a delight to see.