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Overrated “Once” disappoints

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal in "Once" now at the Civic Theatre
Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal in "Once" now at the Civic Theatre
Joan Marcus

"Once"

Rating:
Star2
Star
Star
Star
Star

San Diego, CA---I know I’m not the only audience member that was seated in the Civic Theatre on opening night of the overrated, super hyped eight Tony Award winning “Once” now playing in this too large for an intimate show venue that could not understand a word spoken or sung. That said, “What’s it all about Alfie”?

Based on the Academy Award winning film of the same name, “Once” is a love story that takes place over the course of a week. Unfortunately, I never really felt the love connection between the two protagonists, Girl (Dani de Waal) who is a Czech national and musician and Guy (Stuart Ward is handsomely fit with some fine chops) who is an Irish street musician/ Hoover repairman with his Da (a lovely Raymond Bokhour), so that was a non starter for me. That said Girl feels an obligation to help Guy kick-start his almost budding career but it has its consequences or side effects, as we will later discover.

They meet up outside an Irish Pub after she wanders on to the scene where he is playing his latest work. In spite of it all that says no, they venture into a friendship that leads to sort of a love affair that was doomed from the start (“Falling Slowly”). That much I was able to glean.

However, not being able to understand her accent or for that matter his to make any sense of the whole thing, my mind wandered to an oldie by Tommy Edwards’ “Morning Side of The Mountain” in which he so beautifully describes the challenges of ‘he living on the morning side of the mountain and she living on the twilight side of the hill”. ‘Tho thy never met, they never kissed and they will never know what happiness they missed’, perhaps they were better off than Girl and Guy. Or, if you are a romantic, perhaps not.

Question: Is a doomed relationship (his girlfriend ran off to N.Y. and she has a husband somewhere waiting in the wings to return) better than no relationship at all and do we need two plus hours to find out? Discuss.

“Once” described as charming, different, whimsical, original and daring is based on the 2006 movie of the same name, sans music. The stage adaptation with book by Edna Walsh and songs by Markéta Itglová (including the Academy Award song, “Falling Slowly”) premiered in 2011 at The New York Theatre Workshop and moved to Broadway 2012 where it is still playing. On Sunday, Aug.10th it celebrated its 1,000 performance.

No question there are some innovative things going on here like the before show time rush of audience members lining up on stage for drinks at the very same bar that Guy and Girl combine their talents to make music on while an ensemble of very talented musicians stomp, play a variety of interesting instruments and sing their way through an assortment of (very loud) Irish music; enough so to either warm the heart of any Irishman in the audience or blow the eardrums off of anyone else.

By the time the long line of would be bar patrons single file off the stage to their seats, Guy appears singing his would be new tune. When he sees her, he runs off leaving his guitar. She follows and we're off to the ballgame. Before we know it a piano is rolled on to the stage and Girl begins playing but not before she mumbles a few smart quips (the audience laughed, so I’m assuming they were funny) and without much explanation, she is on his case to make a CD and get serious about his musical career.

The movie ran no longer than ninety minutes, since that’s about the all the story there is to tell. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt that a musical will take up a bit more time because of the music, set up etc., etc., etc. to move things along, the thin plot line not withstanding, doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to last much longer since it’s pretty much the same old.

But for the clever use of the musicians who are on stage throughout and who every now and then become characters in their own musical and during whatever scene changes take place a la some pretty rowdy movements along the way (Steven Hoggett is credited for movement. No choreography credits are listed) the show could be reduced to an intermission-less one.

The Pub set surrounded by mirrors that make their world look almost like infinity is designed by Bob Crowley giving the folks up on stage an almost finite look. Natasha Katz designed the lighting, which I found very effective. Clive Goodwin is credited as sound designer and Stephen Gabis as dialect coach. Neither worked well for me.

There is no orchestra in the pit, but none is needed. With an array of instruments like the mandolin, guitar, banjo, drum set and percussion, accordion and concertina, melodica, harmonica, ukulele, cello, electric bass, violin and of course piano the music and musicians speak for themselves.

“Once” directed by John Tiffany is definitely not my cup of tea. That’s not to say that I’m not a romantic I love a good love story; have been involved in some of my own. This “Once” however is not on the top of my play list. As you might have guessed, it didn’t stop San Diego audiences from jumping to their collective feet at show’s end though.

Again, you be the judge.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 17th

Organization: Broadway San Diego

Phone: 619-570-1100

Production Type: Musical

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd & B, Downtown San Diego

Ticket Prices: Start @ $47.00

Web: broadwayse.com

Venue: Civic Theatre