‘Once’ More, With Feeling

‘Once’ More, With Feeling

Play is heady, full of heart and nothing like a musical


TheatreSquared’s 13th season — and the last before it moves from Nadine Baum Studios to its brand new, state-of-the-art home across the street — opens with the critically acclaimed, Tony Award-winning musical “Once.” It seems fitting, as this particular show contains multitudes: a cast of 13 but an intimate story, a heart-wrenching plot line that manages to serve up a lot of laughs and a folk-rock score that will please musical theater lovers while hooking those who thought they might never enjoy a stage musical.

In other words, much like TheatreSquared, the show manages to offer something for everyone.

“We were more or less dragged to see ‘Once,’ late in its Broadway run,” says the show’s director and T2 co-founder Amy Herzberg. “We fell madly, instantly, in love with it. And we were of two minds: One, we can never produce this play, because what we just saw was perfect, and two, when we do produce it (because we will, because it is the quintessential T2 sort of play), how phenomenally cool will it be to re-conceive it for our wonderfully intimate space?”

“Once” is the story of five days in the lives of two musicians: a Dublin songwriter — known simply as “Guy” in the show — close to giving up on his dreams, and a Czechoslovakian immigrant — called “Girl” — who, he discovers, has musical talents that complement his own. Unlike most stage musicals, orchestration for the musical numbers doesn’t waft from a pit below the stage. Instead, Herzberg’s talented actors each play at least one instrument (some play several), creating the music on stage and in full view of the audience. It’s a deceptively simple concept that creates surprisingly moving moments.

“The music is what sets it apart from most other shows,” says Elisabeth Evans, who has performed the show on Broadway, as well as in a regional theater production. She plays the role of Girl in T2’s show. “The music is really relatable. The actors are also the musicians, so I think that the audience gets to connect with the music in a way that they don’t, ordinarily, when they have the music coming from somewhere off stage. The music becomes part of the storytelling in a really unique way, and I think it allows people to connect with it more.”

While finding actors who are as adept at playing an instrument as they are at singing and acting might be difficult, Herzberg says her cast is more than up to the challenge.

“Casting ‘Once’ was a joy,” she says. “There is so much talent out there, and the process of discovering a whole new world of actors who are also exceptional musicians was both challenging and inspiring. The show is incredibly complicated, and we feel fortunate to have found a mix of actors who have performed in it before, including on Broadway, and others who are bringing a fresh new voice, either to the show or to a role they’ve not performed before.”

T2’s production marks actor Barry DeBois’ sixth production of “Once”: He performed the show in a variety of theaters when he participated in the second national tour in the role of Guy. DeBois says that T2’s intimate space, where he will reprise that role, is a perfect setting for the show.

Courtesy Photo
The TheatreSquared press release for “Once” urges patrons to arrive early to the show to enjoy a “high-energy Irish folk song-swap, with drinks, in the lobby starting a half-hour before each show.”

“If you’re a fan of intimate theater spaces like T2, this show is perfect for that kind of theater,” he says. “If you’re someone who wants to feel very invested in a story, it’s very easy to get swept up in this one.”

“There’s rarely a show that we don’t think would benefit from the intimacy of our space,” notes Herzberg. “But ‘Once’ — which is a story about a community coming together — is perfect for our theater, where everyone’s close to the stage in almost an immersive way. We really wanted to embrace the audience with this story, so we’re blurring the separation of audience and performer in a cool new way. I won’t describe it any further — we want to let folks enjoy the discovery when they see the show.”

Whether it’s the intimacy of the show, the visual and aural “wow” of seeing the orchestration on stage or its contemporary — and catchy — score, the sold-out crowds and effusive reviews the show garners are pretty good evidence that “Once” charms the socks off its audiences.

“After the show, there are always people that say this is their favorite production they’ve ever seen at that particular theater,” says DeBois. “People will say, ‘I’m not really a theater person’ or ‘I’m not really a musical theater person, but this really spoke to me.’”

“‘Once’ is definitely one of those shows you can invite your friends who ‘don’t like musicals’ to,” says Herzberg. “First of all, there’s the music itself: Glen Hansard’s sound — his blend of Irish indie folk rock — couldn’t be further from the traditional Broadway-style musical. Second, there’s the way the songs and choreography are folded into the storytelling, which is completely unique to this play — and one of the reasons we were utterly entranced when we saw it. Finally, of course, I suspect that what people don’t like about musicals has less to do with the genre itself and more to do with how they are often executed. At T2 we often hear, ‘I usually hate musicals, but I loved this one’. [And it’s] because we’re careful about which musicals we select — meaningful stories of the heart and soul over spectacle — and because, ultimately, we treat musicals like plays.”




WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 2 & 7:30 p.m. Saturday; & 2 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 23

WHERE — TheatreSquared, 505 W. Spring St. in Fayetteville

COST — $17-$48

INFO — theatre2.org or 443-5600

Categories: Theater