‘Once’ at the Public Theater Is A Music Lover’s Paradise

Robby French and Olivia Clari Nice in Once, now playing at the Public Theater of San Antonio.

Once, the Tony-award winning musical based on the modestly-budgeted 2006 film of the same name, managed to make its transition to the stage without losing its simple Irish charm.

The production now playing at the Public Theater of San Antonio preserves this ebullient, low-key magic.

Set in Dublin, Once focuses on a chance meeting of a young man known only as Guy, an aspiring musician (and vacuum cleaner repairman), and Girl, a spirited immigrant from Czechoslovakia.

Hearing Guy play on the street, Girl is immediately drawn to him. They “meet cute” when she asks him to repair her Hoover, which refuses to suck. He invites her to the flat that he shares with his father and tries to put the moves on her — but she rebuffs his advances.

Due to their mutual love of music, she senses that there could be much more to the relationship than sex. Besides, they’re still suffering from recent heartbreaks (0ne of which gave Girl a child), and this chance encounter just may provide them with the motivation to start their lives over.

Book writer Enda Walsh (playwright of the brilliant The Walworth Farce) does a good job here in fouling expectations. Just when you think a typically sappy Broadway love story is going to commence, it screeches to a halt.

And he has no patience for exposition, so his snappy dialogue merely serves as a vehicle to propel the story along. The focal point here is Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music.

And what music it is! Once‘s staging is similar to the inspired 2005 revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, where all of the talent serves as various characters, singers — and even the band itself.

Director George Green has assembled an excellent cast for the Public’s production. Robby French (recently seen in the Public’s fine production of Rent) and Olivia Clari Nice are terrific as the leads, but just as crucial are the other talented actors/musicians, who fill equally important roles.

Indeed, they deserve to be called out: Tyler Askins, Zachariah Baker, Nathan Yates Douglass, Megan Erwin, Sutton Green, Jane Haas, Paul Henry, Chaz Ingraham, John Lambie, Charlotte Morris, Mary Morrow and Sam Sultan. Their musicianship is simply astounding, and their joyfulness as they perform is infectious.

Once‘s solid production team includes Baker (fulfilling yet another role as musical director), Sara Brookes (costumes), Dan “Doc” Heggem (lighting design), Jesse Worley (sound) and Courtnie Mercer (choreography). Jeremy Whittington’s scenic design is unobtrusive, which allows the music to shine through.

Once plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through June 9 at the Public Theater of San Antonio, 800 W. Ashby Place. Reservations can be made online or by calling (210) 733-7258.

Feature photo: cast members of Once (Siggi Ragnar).

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