Once Upon The Time I Saw “Once”

Based on the 2000s hit movie of the same name, Onceplaying until this December 22nd at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, is pretty non-traditional as musicals go. For one, most of the musical numbers do not serve as inexplicable expressions of the character’s internal states but instead spring organically from the characters’ status as musicians.

The play’s gorgeous music was definitely its most memorable aspect, starting even before the curtain was officially up with a rousing pre-show full of traditional Irish dancing and gorgeous folk songs. However, its plot-or-lack thereof was somewhat less remarkable.

The show also takes place in Dublin, and though this gave the show a charmingly foreign feel, the characters’ heavy European accents occasionally made it hard for me to make out lyrics and dialogue. This was especially notable during the Bank Manager’s (Todd Aulwurm) comedic number towards the end of Act One. Though Aulwurm’s energy and demeanor were mightily amusing on their own, I suspect the moment would have been even funnier if I could actually make out what he was saying.

Recent Rider University graduate Mariah Lotz played the female lead, an interestingly unnamed “Girl” whose quirky surface belies hidden burdens. Jack Gerhard, like her counterpart, the “Guy,” is often stuck playing the straight man to Girl’s peppier antics, but his soulfulness comes through in the music the two’s relationship revolves around.

Guy and Girl, after all, first connect after the latter is so struck by a song of Guy’s that she forces her way into his life despite his initial reticence to connect. Their bond deepens after the two duets on the movie’s most famous song, the Oscar-winning Falling Slowly, which actually appears once towards the beginning of the musical and again towards its ending, its meaning has shifted mightily in the meanwhile.

Their mission to make music together continues to define their untraditional “love” story throughout the play. Their narrative lacks any traditional resolution or consumption but results instead in the recording of an album once guitar-playing Guy and piano-playing Girl join forces and the Girl pulls some strings (the non-guitar kind, if I need to specify) to secure them studio time.

Once’s music’s sometimes dubious connection to its plot is more or less atoned for by the show’s unique and intuitive choreography and the consistent beauty of both the casts’ strong vocals and their instrumental accompaniment, which was provided, interestingly enough, by themselves; near every multitalented cast member doubled as a musician!
Once is the sort of low-key story the casual theatergoer (eg, my mother…) might walk out of wondering what, exactly, the point was. I, though, maintain that the unique beauty of tragically missed connections, especially when they result in some unforgettable art-making, can be a kind of point in and of themselves.

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