"Once” plays the Buell

Harriet Hunter Ford
Posted

The multi-award winning Broadway musical “Once,” playing through May 18 at the Buell Theatre, is worth seeing at least twice.

What started as a low budget Irish film has morphed into a stage musical in London, on Broadway and a national U.S. tour. I was not familiar with the show but knew I would, at the very least, like the music when I learned that it features the Oscar winning “Falling Slowly.” What a lovely song. The entire score is equally pleasing.

In a few words, here is the plot: Guy (as he is called) meets Girl (as she is called) while he’s performing one of his own songs. She’s impressed with his raw talent and the passion she hears in his music. He is Irish and she is a Czech immigrant. Both are musicians and write their own songs. He is filled with angst since his girlfriend went to New York City. Girl lives with her young daughter and her mother. Girl’s husband has left them. Guy repairs vacuum cleaners and she sells flowers. They create music together and it’s easy to see that they are falling love.

The show begins with audience members milling about the stage, buying drinks at the bar and chatting with cast members while other actors/musicians hold a jam session. The house lights are up and stay that way for some time. The fourth wall is down.
The show is a wonderful blend of reality and fantasy. In the first scene, Girl’s broken “Hoover” magically appears on stage when she learns that Guy can repair it. For the majority of the play, all of the adult cast members are on stage. Each is an accomplished musician as well as a first-rate actor. The production is chock full of mesmerizing music. Instruments include guitars, a piano, a cello, an accordion and concertina, drums, and violins. Definitely not an easy cast to assemble but it has been done to near perfection.

The ingenious choreography adds to the surreal element of this touching, bittersweet story. The music ranges from traditional Irish folk songs, to silly songs like “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy,” to heartbreakingly tender ballads. The music is exquisite and the cast more than lives up to the challenges they are given. “Once” is now at the top of my “I must see this one again” bucket list. I’m so pleased to see that good musicals didn’t end with Lerner and Lowe.

This is a fairly short run so get your tickets now. “once” runs only through May 18 at the Buell Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Denver. On May 18, the show will be ASL interpreted, Audio Described and open captioned. For tickets and information, call 303-893-4100 or visit the website at www.denvercenter.org.

Columnist Harriet Hunter Ford may be reached at hhunterford@gmail.com.