Review: “Once”

“Don’t Be Wastin’ Life 

‘Cause You’re Frightened Of It”

Once

At SpeakEasy Stage Company

Through March 30

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Nile Scott Hawver and MacKenzie Lesser-Roy
Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography

Once, the Tony Award winning musical based on the 2007 movie of the same name, is a love story that takes place over five days in Dublin, Ireland. The lead characters are called simply Guy and Girl. The cast is made up primarily of musicians who play their instruments on stage during the performance. This gives a coffeehouse feel to the work.

Guy, played by Nile Scott Hawver, is a singer/songwriter who is despondent after having broken up with his girlfriend. She was the inspiration for his songs, and he has now decided to give up music. 

Girl, an “always serious” Czech pianist, played by MacKenzie Lesser-Roy, sees Guy discard his guitar on the street and approaches him. Guy is put off by her aggressiveness as she pushes him to pick up his instrument. He resists, and then “destiny” steps in.

It turns out Guy repairs Hoovers, as in vacuum cleaners, for a living, and it just happens that Girl has a Hoover in need of repair. This sets the stage for the pretty predictable story that follows.

The two begin to fall in love, but that love will not be able to blossom for a number of reasons; however, they both have much to give to and learn from each other in the time they spend together. Until they met each other they were both stuck, and from each other they have come to understand they cannot remain that way. As Guy says, “Don’t be wastin’ life ‘cause you’re frightened of it”.

Billy Meleady and Kathy St. George With Cast
Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography

Along the way there is much music and many characters, including Guy’s Da (father) and Girl’s mother, Baruska, played by Billy Meleady and Kathy St.George. Girl has a young daughter, Ivonka, who was played by Reagan Gardiner at the performance I attended. Clara Cochran also plays Ivonka in alternating appearances. Add to this a number of Girl’s Czech friends and the local Dubliners and you get some interesting cross cultural interactions. 

While the story is pretty basic and the music is not of the type you will be singing to yourself as you leave the theater, the production is uplifting and enjoyable. Ilyse Robbins has done a splendid job in choreographing the musicians, all of whom are first rate. The set design, mostly brick with wood floors, is warm and welcoming while the lighting accents the colors and frames the actors in a way that keeps them from becoming too large on the small stage of the Robert’s Theatre. It is all splendidly done. 

I want to make special mention of Billy Butler who plays Billy, the owner of a recording studio. Mr. Butler is quick and sharp with some great lines. He is a pugnacious character who has to temper his fighting spirit because he has a bad back. Of course, his back seems fine until he appears ready to fight. I was quite impressed with Mr. Butler’s sharp performance and well timed facial expressions. 

MacKenzie Lesser-Roy and Scott Hawver
Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography

Nile Scott Hawver and MacKenzie Lesser-Roy are charming as Guy and Girl. Both have delightful voices and are accomplished musicians. They convey warmth and understanding in their lines to each other. By the end of the two hour performance you will find you really like both of the characters. 

The rest of the cast are also very good. While most are musicians they also display excellent acting talent and are quite comfortable on the theatrical stage.

This is my first time seeing Once. It was originally an off Broadway work that moved to Broadway. While it had great success there and won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical, I get the feeling it works best in a smaller theatre such as the Robert’s. As I wrote at the beginning, it has a coffeehouse feel to it, and seeing it staged so well on this small stage makes me believe this is how it should be experienced. 

Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography

Once is a nice story, and The Speakeasy Stage Company production of it is pitch perfect. I doubt it was serendipitous that a love story set in Dublin would happen to arrive on a Boston stage during St. Patricks Day, but it is a nice treat. And get there early as the cast puts on a lively little musical session before the play begins that you won’t want to miss. 

Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company

Book By Enda Walsh

Music and Lyric By Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

Directed By Paul Melone 

Choreography by Ilyse Robbins

Through March 30

SpeakEasy Production Company

Calderwood Pavillion, South End, Boston

speakeasystage.com

617.933.8600

One thought on “Review: “Once”

Comments are closed.