“Once” at Stagedoor Theatre Co.

ONCE – Music and Lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova; Book by Enda Walsh; Directed by Tanner Kelly.  Produced by Stagedoor Theatre Company (29757 Conifer Road, Conifer).  Tickets no longer available.

Well, sorry, folks, you blew it!  You had your chance to catch this compelling production and now it’s gone.  Theatre is like that; it’s both the good news and the bad news.  If you don’t keep informed about what is playing and when and where, you can miss truly gifted performances.  Like this sweetly sentimental ONCE.

This is a show not done often as it demands a cast of twelve people, all of whom must play a musical instrument and contribute to the music. The 13th cast member is a baby child – this time the adorable Finley Stoten who can’t be more than 5 or 6 and, by tapping her toes and moving to the music, indicated that, in a couple of years, she could be banging a tambourine herself.  As it was, we had a constant mixture of 7 or 8 guitars, 2 or 3 banjo’s, 2 violins, a piano, a bass viol and drums of all sorts to create the astounding musical backdrop to a lovely Irish-Czech love story. 

OK – I’m going to try to describe how this magical musical treated its score.  You know how the usual beginning of a song is someone counting 3-2-1 and everybody hits the first note together.  In ONCE, most of the songs start with a single guitar and a lone singer for the first 8 to 16 bars.  Then a second or third guitar will join in and deepen the melody.  More voices join the singer and a violin or two pitches in.  The bass gently lends its lower line of melody.  Before you know it, the whole cast has created a harmonious choir playing and singing at the same time.  They sometimes end together on a common note but more often, the accompanying players drop out one by one, leaving the lone guitarist to finish the song the way it started.  It rolls over you like a wave – gently building and receding into silence.  I can only tell you the effect is hypnotic and brings joy to your heart.

Another instance of brilliant staging closed Act I with a song called “Gold.”  It’s open mic night at the neighborhood bar and Guy (Gunnar Bettis) has been encouraged to perform.  The rest of the cast is his audience as they get caught up in the beauty of his music.  As one, they start moving – swaying? – chair dancing? in perfect synchronization.  They too have been moved by a wave of musical emotion that sweeps through the room and takes your breath away.

It’s so easy to tell that this is one of those casts that have formed a definite tribe.  If one of them fell, there would be a dozen hands to catch them before they hit the ground.  If someone forgot a lyric, there would be a resounding group filling in the blanks before anyone in the audience even noticed.  The simplicity of the staging enhances the unorthodox love story.  Guy has had his heart broken and given up on love and music.  Girl (Olivia Kisicki) has had an equally sorrowful love story but finds hope in music.  Together they re-ignite their mutual capacity for love and re-discover the joy in music made together.  Thier’s is a complicated relationship involving a girlfriend who has left for greener pastures and an absent husband.  But, as they move forward into the world, they do not leave anything unfinished between them because their story was unstarted.

Gunnar and Olivia are relatively new local actors that have brought their fresh faces and lovely voices to this remarkable production.  Gunnar has an innocence about him that is most appealing, a true sense of a broken soul that gently re-awakens under Girl’s faith.  Olivia brings an authenticity to her Czech persona and her faith in the healing power of music.  This remarkable cast do everything.  Simultaneously.  They play multiple instruments, sing in breathtaking harmony, dance in both the Irish style and sometimes without leaving their chairs . . . all the while performing in a tightknit acting ensemble.  While this cast defines the meaning of ensemble, each also made their own individual contribution to the fun.  Linda Swanson Brown takes a comic turn as a bank manager wannabe song writer in “Abandoned in Bandon.”  Isabelle Duran as the sexy Reza asks for someone to “Satisfy Me.” Cooper Kaminski appeals to “The Moon.”  The titular song from the show “Falling Slowly” weaves its startling harmonies throughout the evening.

OK – I’ve tormented you enough with what you’ve missed.  Sorry!  But stay tuned and check back once and awhile, because I may have good news soon.A WOW factor of 9.5!!

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