This past Saturday I attended a performance of the eight-time Tony Award®-winning musical Once, at ZACH Theatre in my hometown of Austin. I was excited, with high hopes for the show, because the movie Once is a favorite of mine; and I absolutely adore the soundtrack. I’ve attended live performances by The Swell Season, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s band, as well as a live concert by Hansard solo. So, I was pretty stoked to be seeing the musical.
This is the first Texas regional theatre production of Once. Speaking to Austin’s live music roots, ZACH’s Topfer Theatre lobby transforms into an Irish pub, creating an immersive experience from start to finish — this was a touch that I noticed as soon as I walked in the doors, and I really loved what it added to the experience.
Based on the 2007 Academy Award®-winning film with music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, and book by Enda Walsh, audiences will fall for this unexpected romance that features a talented ensemble of actor/musicians who play their own instruments on stage.
Once is an enchanting, modern love story about the complexities of relationships and the power of music to connect us all. It tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. Their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful but complicated romance, heightened by the raw emotion of the songs they create together. Winner of 8 Tony Awards® including Best Musical, this unique theatrical experience, with breathtaking melodies by Glen Hansard of the Irish band The Frames, will have you falling in love from the very first note.
I was taken by the ZACH production of Once. The challenge, of course, are that many audience members such as myself are quite familiar with the movie and the storyline, as well as the musical numbers. To keep that fresh in a new, live theatre production isn’t an easy task, but I felt they pulled it off here.
First of all, the way the music and ensemble was introduced was fresh and intimate. Before the show opened, cast members were in the “Irish pub” lobby playing music; and once the theatre lights dimmed for the production to begin, it started the same way. An informal few songs were played by the cast members, as if the audience was watching a live music set — it was hard to tell if the “play” had actually begun or not. Then Corbin Mayer, playing the Guy, steps forward to play a number — and it is the song “Leave,” which opens the movie when the Guy is playing the song as a street busker on Grafton Street in Dublin, and the Girl stops by to listen. As Mayer plays, the other cast members drift off the stage one by one, and then there is the Girl, played by Olivia Nice, standing in the audience and calling to him.
As someone who is very familiar with the music and the movie, and a big fan of both, I found this production refreshingly new. The musical is based on the film, and so the basic storyline is familiar. However, there’s enough fresh dialogue and fresh facets added to the story (for example, the Guy’s ex that he wrote all the songs about actually makes an appearance here, though she was never featured in the film) to make it a new experience to discover. The same is true with the music; all the songs from the film are there, but there is also some new music added to the mix.
This following of the movie, without being too literal or too exact, mixed with new additions, makes this production a delight to discover for anyone, whether familiar with the movie or not. And the talent of the cast is exceptional, both from an acting standpoint as well as a musical standpoint. They all play their own instruments, and in scenes such as the studio recording of the climactic song, “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” the ensemble is simply breathtaking.
I would actually love to go back and see this again during this production, and I would highly recommend that anyone in the Austin area check this out at ZACH; or see a production of Once in another city if you have the opportunity!
Details about the ZACH production
Once will play The Topfer at ZACH Theatre, September 19 – October 28, 2018, under the direction of ZACH Producing Artistic Director Dave Steakley with Musical Direction by Allen Robertson, Scenic Design by Donald Eastman and Choreography by Cassie Abate.
When: September 19, 2018 – October 28, 2018
Where: The Topfer at ZACH | 202 S. Lamar Boulevard | Austin, TX 78704
Tickets: Start at $25 available at the ZACH box office – (512) 476-0541, x1