Review: ‘Once’ at SHN Orpheum Theatre (*****)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: *****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

The touring company of
The touring company of “Once” provides musical thrills galore at the Orpheum Theatre. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Fans should rejoice at the opportunity to enjoy the San Francisco arrival of Broadway’s “Once”! In 2012, “Once” was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and won eight, including Best Musical and Best Book. The touring company lives up to this stellar reputation.

You would have to have a potato for a heart not to fall in love with this wonderful celebration of Celtic music, young love, and fine writing.

The show begins before the house lights go down as the stage itself is transformed into a Dublin pub, and the audience is invited to belly up to the bar and buy a drink while mingling with the cast of musician/actors who fully create an authentic ambience as they perform excellent renditions of celtic music. Audience members line up in the aisles for a chance to visit the onstage pub, and while it is worth the wait, it is not necessary. The good feeling extends throughout the entire auditorium.

The cast does a superb job of creating a vibrant community of eccentric Dublin musicians, centered around the music store/pub owned by the charismatic Billy (a wonderful performance by Evan Harrington).

Within this community we meet Girl and Guy — she a young mother, a Czech immigrant to Dublin, whose husband has left her. He is a singer/songwriter who has abandoned music after his girlfriend left for New York, and is living above his father’s vacuum cleaner repair store. They meet cute. Girl is impressed with Guy’s singing, and tells him she plays the piano herself. Her father, she explains, was a violinist who had to quit when he developed arthritis, and later committed suicide. “I’m a musician too,” she confesses. “But I haven’t committed suicide yet.”

Stuart Ward as Guy and Dani de Waal as Girl share potent musical and emotional chemistry in
Stuart Ward as Guy and Dani de Waal as Girl share potent musical and emotional chemistry in “Once.” Photo Credit: John Marcus.

That last is a wonderful bit of dialogue that walks a tightrope between pathos and humor. It draws a big laugh from the audience, along with tears. It sets the tone for the emotional feast that follows.

We experience the developing love between the two young people and the surprising twist taken by their romance. All of this takes place in the heart of the eccentric musicians’ community, whom we also learn to know and love, while enjoying delightful music throughout.

All of the performances are delicate, graceful, touching, and musical. The design elements delight, and John Tiffany’s direction and Steven Hoggett’s movement are perfectly unobtrusive yet fully satisfying.

Lovely. Lovely. Lovely.

There are two more opportunities to see the excellent “Once” at SHN Orpheum Theatre: Halloween Nght (Saturday, October 31st) and one more matinee (Sunday, November 1st). For further information, click here.

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“Once,” produced by SHN Orpheum Theatre in associaiton with New York Theatre Workshop. Book: Enda Walsh. Music and Lyrics: Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová. Based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney. 

Cast (actors/musicians):

Ivanka: Sarah McKinley Austin.
Girl: Dani de Wall (piano).
Švec: Matt De Angelis, 11/1 Zander Meisner (Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo, Drum Set, Percussion).
Eamon: John Steven Gardner. (Piano, Guitar, Percussion, Melodica,  Harmonica).
Billy: Evan Harrington (Guitar, Percussion, Ukulele).
Emcee: Ryan Link (Guitar, Banjo).
Bank Manager: Jon-Alex MacFarlane (Cello, Guitar).
Andrej: Alex Nee (Electric Bass, Ukulele, Guitar, Percussion).
Ex-Girlfriend: Erica Spyres (Violin, Percussion).
Baruška: Tina Stafford (Accordion (Concertina).
Da: Scott Waara, 10-27 through 11/1 Stephen McIntyre (Mandolin).
Guy: Stuart Ward (Guitar).
Réza: Claire Wellin (Violin).

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