‘Once: The Musical’ is Rhapsodically Raw

A synthesis of music and melancholy, fun and fate, “Once: The Musical” was a once-in-a-lifetime watch.

The show started before the lights turned off in the Newhart Family Theatre. 

Instead of a customary introduction, the cast of “Once: The Musical” signified the start of the show with a song unrelated to the musical’s soundtrack. Company members began playing the guitar, singing sweet folksy ballads before delving into The Proclaimers’ iconic “500 Miles (I’m Gonna Be).” 

As the actors danced onstage while playing a variety of instruments, they encouraged the audience to sing and clap along, evoking the atmosphere of a concert rather than a musical. 

These opening numbers set the tone for an endlessly captivating and evocative show about the power of music and the unexpected impact people can have on each other’s lives. 

Where else can one listen to a tear-jerking duet, watch a local first-grader dance and cheer as a student portraying a Czech drummer rips off his pants? 

The story revolves around the relationship between Guy, a native Dubliner on the precipice of giving up his dream of pursuing music, and “Girl,” a Czech pianist who immigrated to Dublin with her family. The two bond over their love of music, as Girl encourages Guy to pursue a singing career in order to win back his ex-girlfriend.

As the relationship between Guy and Girl grows, peripheral members of their working-class Dublin community are woven into the story. Characters such as Girl’s Czech roommates, the owner of a local music store and a bank manager become unexpected players in Girl’s plan to create a professional recording of Guy’s songs. 

The music — composed of songs written by Glen Hansard — offered a rustic, down-to-earth feel, grounding the viewer in the story. The script is at once poignant and witty, striking a balance between silly and sincere.

Striking the perfect balance between humor and heart, the show demonstrated the cast’s skills in music and acting alike. (Image courtesy of Joe Mazza)

Loyola Theatre’s rendition of this story is entertaining as ever. Striking the perfect balance between humor and heart, the show demonstrated the cast’s skills in music and acting alike, as they managed to stay in character while singing in harmony and playing a wide array of instruments. 

This narrative and musical diversity made the show thrilling from start to finish. All of the music was played live from both the orchestra and actors. One notable actor was fourth-year Brody Melia, who masterfully strummed the guitar and banjo throughout the show. 

Melia’s solo song “Abandoned in Bandon” — which involved him playing the guitar and singing at light speed — seemed almost like a masterclass in comedic timing. His cartoonishly extravagant facial expressions and exaggerated dance moves made him a delight to watch. 

Comedic timing and exaggerated facial expressions also guided the performance of second-year Theron Abel who played Švec, one of Girl’s Czech roommates. As Švec, he delivered a hearty European accent expertly paired with a relentlessly intense demeanor, charming the audience with his ability to lean into his character’s intense love of drumming and Irish soap operas. 

The song “Ej Pada Pada Rosicka” in particular made Abel a standout. At one point in the number, a spotlight shines down on him and fellow actor Avery Thompson, who feverishly strummed a ukulele. As the rest of the stage goes dark, their voices combine into a soaring falsetto, enhanced by dramatic expressions cast over the audience. 

Comedic moments like these are interwoven throughout, providing relief from the emotionally intense central narrative of the relationship between Guy and Girl grows. 

While there were spectacular performers across the cast, the two leads demonstrated their star quality throughout the show. Third-year Ethan Burfield is a first-time performer originally from Ireland, according to the program. His performance was authentic and lovable in his portrayal of Guy. 

While Burfield’s acting was admirable, he captivated the audience with his singing. His raw and raspy voice, finely tuned and teetering between moments of powerful poignancy and fleeting falsetto, sounded almost identical to Glen Hansard’s rendition of the songs.

His understated character was matched by fourth-year Elizabeth Avery’s unwavering confidence. Their onstage chemistry was most apparent while singing together, as their passion seemed to reflect the meditative, conversational nature of Hansard’s lyrics. 

“Falling slowly / eyes that know me / and I can’t go back,” Avery and Burfield sing together in the song “Falling Slowly,” looking over a piano and into each other’s eyes. 

As the story reveals more about Guy’s love for his ex-girlfriend in New York and Girl’s struggle to provide for her daughter and fix her marriage, the two actors’ masterfully portray the characters’ intense and complicated chemistry.  

The vocal prowess of Burfield and Avery was rivaled only by third-year Aimee Jaske, who played the spunky and seductive Réza. Her voice, a soaring soprano, often filled the entire auditorium even as she harmonized with the rest of the company. 

As the musical comes to a close, Guy and Girl say goodbye to an all-cast reprise of “Falling Slowly.” Exiting through the audience, Burfield turns back and looks at Avery as she plays his character’s song on the piano. 

A synthesis of music and melancholy, fun and fate, “Once: The Musical” was a once-in-a-lifetime watch. The production has four more performances scheduled April 11-14. Tickets can be purchased on the Department of Fine and Performing Arts’ website.

Featured image courtesy of Joe Mazza.

Share the post