Slightly more than a week ago, my friend Becky and I went to see the revolutionary new musical Once. In the lead role of the Guy was the extremely talented and enchanting David Hunter, accompanied by the exceptional and extraordinary Jill Winternitz, in the role of the Girl. I’ve been blown away by their wonderful performances but not only were they amazing, two other artists also left me quite speechless in this show: they are Tim Prottey-Jones in the role of Billy and Matthew Ganley embodying the very funny Svec. As you may have noticed it through the diverse social networks, I absolutely loved this musical… and this for 3 main reasons: its originality, the beautiful & simple story it’s telling and the incredible music giving it its rhythm.
First of all, I think everyone who’s been to the Phoenix Theatre and seen this musical would agree to say that it’s a quite original one. When you arrive to the theatre – preferably, let’s say about half an hour before the beginning of the show – the artists are already all on stage, designed as a typical Irish pub where people come to lose themselves in songs and drinks, improvising a pre-show hootenanny, which allows the audience to enter the world of the musical. It also creates a pretty casual and homely atmosphere, emphasized by the interval, during which people can have their drinks and pictures taken on stage. How original and cool! You would not be allowed to do such things at her Majesty’s or Queen’s Theatres. Furthermore, the scene is forming an arc of a circle, which leaves it pretty open and thus very welcoming. Besides, I would say that Once is half a comedy and half a musical, since the singing is not as important as it is in other more classic musicals, such as Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King or Les Misérables. Also in Once, the main characters do not have specific names; they’re just called ‘Girl’ and ‘Guy’, which facilitates the identification of the audience with these simple, sweet and daily-life characters. All in all, this musical is slightly unexpected when you’re used to the classic ones but definitely deserves its title of ‘revolutionary’.
Then, when it comes to the story itself, I completely fell in love with it… so fast I didn’t even have time to realise that it had carried away all the members of my body. It’s a very simple and honest and true love story, which makes it – in my opinion – all the more beautiful. The simplest things in life always are the most beautiful. It is also very simple in the sense that everything is intentionally made less important than it really is. Enda Walsh, the playwright, said Once was “the most delicate invisible love story” – I love this – the most delicate and invisible love story – it just says so much about how love sometimes is hidden behind walls and buried 6 feet under the surface but is still here anyway, despite everything; it says so much about how love can simply be about little things and sincere words and beautiful & timid smiles. Once is firstly the story of this Girl who turns around a musician’s life for five days and suddenly falls in love with his music and then with him… and why?! Because THE one and only bond, the one that unites two soul mates, has been created or rather recreated; and because she’s been moved by this guy in a way no one else ever will move her in her entire life. The Girl is, in all her effervescence, yearning for a love she knows she can’t have, thus creating this unfinished but beautiful love story. I am myself – and you probably know it now if you’ve been reading my words and poems for a while – experiencing that in my own life in a way that you can be a total stranger to somebody and they can be a stranger to you, and yet when you start creating art together and being bound by this art… there’s something that happens where it’s almost like your two souls merge. But Once is not only a love story, it is also the story of this girl, who transforms everyone around her, whose light shines on all the different narratives. So it is not only a love story but also the tale of some people’s potential to create things out of nothing but their being themselves.
“There’s something so timeless about the simplicity of ‘go sing that song to your girl, you’ll get her back’.” – Glen Hansard
What I also really like in this musical is how music is at the centre of the whole storytelling, which I would interpret as the importance and great value of art to help us get off all these feelings we have in the deepest parts of our chests. Enda Walsh describes it as “the sweetest strongest thing” existing, the most delicate way to share meaningful and powerful sentiments. Once provides its audience with all the kinds of music I absolutely adore, which is basically folk-based music. The North Strand, Ej Pada Pada Rosicka, Abandoned in Bandon or It cannot be about that are the songs which just give me the biggest smile ever and lust for life! And there are other songs, which move me deeply, drag all my feelings out bringing them back to the surface and rip my heart from its shelter. Falling slowly is one of them; it’s a song about love at first sight, about how love can only start by this beautiful & simple spark and unique connection, it’s about falling in love slowly, soul mates and it reminds us of how hopeful love should always be and that a home is neither a place nor a house but someone you can confide your heart to. This song beautifully ends with the verse ‘I’ll sing along’, in other words, with the union of two voices, the reunion of two souls. When it comes to If you want me, I can especially relate to the first few notes and words saying ‘are you really here/or am I dreaming/I can’t tell dreams from truth/for it’s been so long since I have seen you/I can hardly remember your face anymore/when I get really lonely and the distance causes only silence, I think of you smiling with pride in your eyes – a lover that sighs’; it reminds me of night time when I most usually let my heart speak and show me the face and make me feel the touch of the one I love. It’s a perfect description of that feeling you get when you love from a distance and you basically link yourself to all that can bring the thief of your heart back. Then there’s the song entitled The Hill, which is from far my favourite… probably because it is the one that speaks the most to me; the lyrics ‘where are you my angel now, don’t you see me crying?!’ reveals feelings I know all too well, like wandering alone up on a hill or elsewhere and thinking, apologising, hurting… The verse ‘I’m on my knees in front of him but he doesn’t seem to see me’ evokes this feeling of loving from a distance, in any sense possible. Another one I deeply like is The Moon, which I like to call the song of the artist, who is bleeding his/her words, music – art in short – out in the dark, letting himself/herself be consumed by the night and its creatures. Finally, Sleeping and its extract ‘how in the world did you come to be such a lazy love …. It’s so simple’ stole my heart in the simplest and most beautiful way possible to sum a beautiful and simple love story.
Other very powerful songs reached some of the deepest parts of my heart and soul like Leave and When your mind’s made up, which is about how we never truly give up on the ONE we love. Anyway, I’ll now just let you immerse yourself in Once’s universe through the music and photos of this post.
Enjoy the original Broadway cast recording !