“Once” * Music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova ∗ Adapted by Enda Walsh * Directed by John Tiffany * Starring Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti * Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th St., New York
Bereft of whatever minor suggestions of pretension may have clung to it earlier on, the modest Irish musical, “Once,” has moved to Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, where, with any luck at all, it may settle in for the healthy run it so richly deserves.
“Once” started its charmed life as an Irish independent film in 2006. It told the slightly thin story of two mildly depressed street musicians, a boy from Dublin and a girl from the Czech Republic who had come to Ireland to study music. The pair, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, wrote their own songs and worked much in the manner of the street performers known in England, Ireland and elsewhere as “Buskers.”
Hansard was well known in Ireland as the lead singer in a popular group called the Frames. He and Irglova, who were an item for a while, got lucky when one of their songs, “Falling Slowly,” won a Best Original Song Academy Award.
The couple played themselves in the film, but not in the stage version, for which they have been replaced by two equally charming and gifted actors, Steve Kazee, who is unnamed, but called simply “The Guy,” and Cristin Milioti, also nameless, but rather coyly known as “The Girl.”
It would be difficult to dislike “Once,” which was transformed into a modest stage musical by director John Tiffany and choreographer Steven Hoggett, both of whom were mutually responsible for creating “Black Watch,” a famously stunning production which told the story of a Scottish army regiment disbanded in 2006 after hundreds of years of history and recent service in the Iraq war.
“Black Watch” was successful wherever it played, including two separate engagements at St.Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in 2007, when it stood as a powerful document on the war’s impact on the men fighting it.
For “Once,” they created a pub-like set designed by Bob Crowley that, with relatively little embellishment, took the play where ir needed to go, to a musical instrument store, for example, or to a vacuum-repair shop., and so on.
“Once” first appeared in New York at off-Broadway’s New York Theater Workshop on East 4th Street, where it had a healthy run before shutting down for over a month in order to prepare for Broadway.
Part of the show’s initial preparation for the stage involved commissioning a fresh adaptation of John Carney’s screenplay from popular Irish playwright Enda Walsh, who has been given considerable credit for the production’s current success.
Broadway is, however, always a tough call, perhaps particularly for a show as simple, as direct and as and uncomplicated as “Once.”
Some critics have been bizarrely rough on “Once,” in one case accusing it of being, to quote the Oscar-winning song’s title, “a show that’s simply falling slowly in love with itself.” More than once the show itself has been dismissed as being “too cute.”
And a modicum of self-love is definitely a part of the mix, and it’s very probably a healthy and unavoidable portion of what the audience members experience, and very possibly of what they expect from the start or even before.
“Once” is, to put it very mildly, almost too easy to love. With any luck at all, Broadway audiences will find their way to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre and find out just what makes this unpretentious little Irish musical so effective.