On an ever-growing list of movies and TV shows being adapted into stage musicals, Once is a rarity in that it excels far better on the stage than it did on the screen. Based on the beloved 2007 movie that claimed the Oscar for Best Song, Once made it to Broadway in 2012 and promptly scooped up more gongs, including a Tony Award for Best Musical.
Now what started a micro-budget indie film has travelled the globe, this month finally making its Auckland debut. What's even more surprising about Once's success is that it is not the sort of show you'd expect to be internationally in demand.
Set in Dublin, the music is more quiet Irish folk songs then power ballads and catchy show tunes. The set is stripped bare – normally with just a bar in the middle, though the Peach Theatre production has an arched ramp and a rotating centre stage instead. The performers sit to the edge of the stage in full view of the audience when they exit a scene, often having to take a stool with them.
The toned-down element carries through into the plot, a relatively rushed and simple love story. Guy (Adam Ogle) is a lovelorn Irish singer tempted to give up music after a relationship ends but finds his spark again after Girl (Lisa Crawley), a Czech immigrant who hears him perform, encourages him out of his shell.
The plot is nothing new or amazing but what comes from that meeting is some truly beautiful music, soulful, powerful songs that prove why Once is a winner. Ogle and Crawley's voices are perfectly suited for each other, a pairing most stunningly captured in Falling Slowly. It's the song that won the Oscar and the leads easily carry the weight of expectation to deliver a spine-tingling moment.
Any time an instrument is picked up, Once burns brighter than its bigger-budgeted rivals, thanks to an incredibly talented supporting cast under the eye of musical director Josh Clark. The music, by the film's original stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, fills every corner of the ASB Waterfront Theatre yet it feels like you are the only one in the room, the intimacy of a quiet piano bar replicated on one of our biggest stages.
The songs are plentiful enough that you can forgive an otherwise weak book, more focused on overly broad jokes than it is on telling Guy and Girl's story. It's the music that tells the story, and you can see why director Jesse Peach fought for the rights for six years. The story is simple, but its messages and music exceed those boundaries, a tale of loss and longing that works far more than it should.
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until July 14
Reviewed by: Ethan Sills