By Barry Reszel
Being a triple threat just doesn’t cut it to be cast in Once.
To be sure, the ethereal homage to life’s authentic muse (eat your hearts out Sharon Stone and Selma Hayek) requires stage musicals’ original three talents (acting, singing and dancing). But unless squeezing a melody out of an accordion, tickling the ivories, plucking a nice harmony on a mandolin, strumming a six-string, doing whatever one does to evoke sound from a cajon…is also in an actor’s bag of tricks, he or she ought not waste a director’s time at a future Once casting call.
To fully appreciate the talent currently assembled on the Aurora stage, expertly led by Paramount sage, Director Jim Corti, is to first respect the breadth and depth of this group’s musical ability. To wit, here is the outstanding cast of Once and and the instruments they play:
Barry DeBois – Guy – Guitar
Tiffany Topol – Girl – piano
Larry Tobias – Da – Mandolin
Jeanne T. Arrigo – Baruska – Accordion, guitar
Cassidy Stirtz – Reza – violin, mandolin
Nick Kmiecik – Andrej – uke, melodica, cajon, guitar
Grant Alan Watkins – Svec – guitar, cajon, drums, tambourine, castanets
John Patrick Penick – Billy – guitar, bass
Alex. E. Hardaway – Bank Manager – uke, guitar
Eamon – Angel Lin – mandolin, uke, piano, guitar
Ivonka – Everleigh Murphy – violin
Ensemble: Doug Pawlik – guitar; Matt Kahler – uke, guitar, cajon; Cory Goodrich – guitar, uke; Michael Kurowski – mandolin, guitar; Elisa Carlson – violin, guitar, cajon; Matthew Yee – mandolin, guitar, uke, cello; Jenn Chandler – cello, guitar; Charlie Strater – bass, mandolin
Consider, too, the Herculean efforts of Music Director Tom Vendafreddo, Sound Designer Adam Rosenthal and their respective teams. Because leading up to the romantic dramedy’s unfolding is an Irish hootenanny attended by the show’s early-comers, calling attention to the truth that this production must, first, be about the music.
And so the cast of the current, local production effectively transforms the gorgeous, venerable Paramount into an industrial Dublin pub with a sing-along showcasing the on-stage musicians who eventually become characters (and sometimes clever stagehands) as book writer Edna Walsh‘s unnamed Guy/Girl story unfolds.
Lovely Topol plays the serious (“I’m always serious; I’m Czech”) and driven source of inspiration to a new friend she meets on the street in present-day Dublin, a depressed singer-songwriter-Hoover repairman (wonderfully played by the charming DuBois).
Guy enters as dejected, enigmatic and wanting to scrap the “fookin’ beautiful” songs he’s written for a past girlfriend who moved to New York. Girl finds him singing, refuses to let him quit and, over the course of five days, transforms his life into one that includes music, love, hope and a freshly cut demo CD of his songs. It’s based on the award-winning 2006 movie, summarized here, and went on to win eight Tony Awards in 2012, including Best Musical. A full production history and plot summary may be read here.
Ten minutes into the production, it’s pretty clear this Guy would not be giving up his music, at least if the audience has any say. DeBois’ driving rendition of the show’s first song, “Leave,” followed quickly by his and Topol’s cabaret-worthy duet in the production’s signature song, “Falling Slowly,” illustrate this particular musical’s extraordinary cast requirements. The feeling follows through the full, lovely songbook that includes the chillingly gorgeous, “Gold,” along with its second act reprise.
As requisite the sound superiority is to this production, there is, too, a corresponding visual gold standard that must be met to achieve full spiritual connection among story, song (by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová) and audience. Suffice it to say Paramount delivers.
It comes about first via mesmerizing synchronicity in the ensemble’s execution of William Carlos Angulo‘s fabulous choreography and, second, through Jeffrey D. Kmiec‘s fine industrial set. But as obviously integral (seemingly more so with Once compared to other musical productions) to creating this sacred space and mood is the lighting design of Nick Belley. His alternate cool blues and warm ambers make a distinct contribution to this production, one discerning patrons will appreciate.
In this regional theatre premiere, like the Broadway and touring productions before, Once offers patrons a different type of musical experience. Much like love and life itself, it showcases a series of powerful paradoxes in a celestial way, like no show before it or since.
Once is simultaneously a haunting, lyrical, strong, vulnerable, funny, sad, bawdy, powerfully hopeful reality. And it’s wrapped in a love story that annihilates Hollywood (or even Broadway) clichés because its writers trust their audience enough to allow it to end as many things have ended, are ending and will end—honestly and unresolved.
But do not allow “unresolved” to be read as “unsatisfying.” Because this Once at Paramount? Well, I wouldn’t trade that for gold.
Paramount Theatre presents “Once” through June 3 at 23 East Galena Boulevard, Aurora. More information and tickets are available here.