“Once” Gifts Audiences a Work of Musical Art

1999 was a big year for the muse.

So 14 years later, it’s high time to update the pop culture images of Sharon Stone and Salma Hayek as mythology’s daughters of Zeus.

Enter Dani De Waal. (And for effect, Ms. De Waal, please make your entrance from the audience, under spotlight.)

Truth is, Stone and Hayek aren’t even on the same cloud with De Waal, who’s captivating Chicagoland audiences in the Broadway tour of “Once,” 2012’s Tony Award-winning best musical.

De Waal is 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 (played by brilliant Stuart Ward).

Leading up to De Waal’s dramatic entrance, “Once” begins with an Irish hootenanny attended by the show’s early-comers, effectively transforming Chicago’s Oriental Theatre into a Dublin pub. The sing-along showcases on-stage musicians who eventually become characters (and sometimes clever stagehands) as the unnamed Guy/Girl story unfolds.

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.

Ten minutes into the October 9 production, it was clear Guy would only be giving up his music over the dead bodies of opening night’s patrons. Ward’s driving rendition of the show’s first song, “Leave,” followed quickly by his and De Waal’s cabaret-worthy duet in the production’s signature song, “Falling Slowly,” illustrate how a first-rate musical about musicians requires its cast to be ultra-talented quadruple threats.

Indeed, each member of this gifted ensemble is at once a quality musician, singer, actor and dancer. Evan Harrington is the hilariously awkward music shop owner; Raymond Bokhour is Guy’s Da; Donna Garner is Girl’s mom; Matt DeAngelis, Alex Nee and Claire Wellin play Girl’s flatmates; Benjamin Magnuson is the maligned gay banker, and John Steven Gardner, Ryan Link and Erica Swindell play assorted roles.

Together, however, this ensemble acts as one—performing on piano, guitar, fiddle, banjo, cello, ukulele, drums, mandolin and accordion while moving, some might say dancing, in mesmerizing synchronicity. In concert with Bob Crowley’s first-rate unit set featuring mirrors on the back wall, the ensemble’s visual effect delivers an understated, elegant companion to the production’s powerful score.

With their two stars, this ensemble delivers: haunting, lyrical, strong, vulnerable, funny, sad, bawdy, powerfully hopeful reality—all at “Once.”

In doing so, they allow Broadway in Chicago to deliver the quality expected of the Broadway brand. The travel set is a worthy double to the New York version, and there is nothing second city about this wonderful, professional production. This fully authorized tour of the Tony-winning show still playing on the Great White Way is Times Square without the plane fare. The official website for both the Broadway and touring productions may be accessed HERE.

The only question is whether to see “Once” twice.

“Once” performs Tuesday through Sunday, through October 27 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. Matinees are performed Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range from $27 to $95, plus fees. Additional premium seats are available for many performances. Tickets and additional information are available at BroadwayInChicago.com or by calling 800-775-2000.

 


barry-reszel-writers-photoBarry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions.