Sunday, October 05, 2014

Once, The Musical, A Review.


Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

I have to start out by admitting that I don't like musicals. The last one I went to was six or so years ago and it was an accident. Musicals just seem a bit stupid, with their singing-instead-of-saying approach to story telling. What I want from theatre is just a good story well told. Song and dance? Bah.

Having said that, one of my most well known dirty little secrets is that I am a total sucker for a good romantic comedy, and as far as that goes, it doesn't get much better than this.

I think where Once stands apart from your garden variety musical is that it is about music. My usual seething hatred of musicals isn't justified here because this is not about people spontaneously bursting into song and dance for no logical reason, it is about music and the love of music. When the characters sing and dance here, it all feels more natural than in other musicals. The story is so clearly told and thoroughly engaging that you could forget you were watching a musical, if the music wasn't so damned good.

Once is about a guy and a girl. Well, two girls, really. Guy is a broken-hearted busker about to turn his back on his music. Girl sees that he is about to do this but feels so passionately that his music and song-writing is great that she encourages him to do whatever it takes to get back into it. The romantic tension between them is the stuff of all great romcoms, but the outcome is what stays with you and makes this so memorable. Once is a story, perhaps, about three kinds of love: selfish love; unrequited love; and selfless love. This last one is the main one here - the most noble kind of love- and it's a bitter-sweet thing.

The stage is a bar in Ireland, and the show starts with audience members up on stage ordering drinks and standing about as a couple of performers start jamming on a variety of instruments and singing seemingly impromptu songs. It's how you imagine traditional Irish pubs to be. It's a good way to entertain those of us who arrived on time while we wait for those who didn't arrive on time. Gradually, the audience exits the stage to go to their seats, the lights go down and our story begins.

It opens with a song of melancholy, and our man (Tom Parsons) can sing. (And strum and act, sometimes all at the same time. He's good looking too. Bastard). But as soon as Girl (Madeline Jones) takes to the stage, there are laughs. She is a quirky and forthright Czek, a fellow music lover. She knows what's ticking in Guy's heart and she quickly becomes an important part of his world.

The leads are both well drawn, engaging characters, and as they slowly get to know each other, we get to know them and their very different worlds. There are multitudes of other characters – all warm, engaging and funny – played by head-shakingly talented actor/musicians. The casting process for this must have been an interesting experience.

Every musical instrument bar the theremin appears to be in the show, all played with precision to create feelings of warmth, melancholy, humour and fun. Lots of fun. The actors at all times appear to be absolutely enjoying themselves and playing their instruments. It's a wonderful thing to see. It's probably unfair to single anyone out from such an impressive ensemble of mostly local performers, but Amy Lehpamer perhaps best demonstrates this joy that I'm talking about; she shined brightly when she had her floor-stomping moments with her violin.

Once is a big, slick production, again not the kind of thing I'm usually drawn to. I'm usually found at banged up little theatres who put on edgy independent productions. I like risk takers like recent Fringe dwellers Stephen House and the Mellow Yellow crew.

But without reservation, I loved Once. It's a good story well told, with some wonderful tunes.

On at Princess Theatre, Melbourne until... erm... not really sure. But it's on now and you should definitely go see it. It's good. Really good.

Read about the show and buy tickets here.


Bright Precious said...

Loved your review, Lee. It's spot on.

Lee Bemrose said...

Thanks, Deb. It was a good show, wasn't it?