Review: Once (Mirvish)

ONCE Tornto, Mirvish Productions

Mirvish presents the Tony Award-winning musical Once with an all-Canadian cast in Toronto

Once, the Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 2012, adapted from the 2006 film of the same title, has returned to Toronto following a sold out six-week engagement of the US Touring production in late 2013. This time, Mirvish has produced a new production of the show featuring an all-Canadian cast.

It’s easy to see why Toronto audiences fell in love with Once. First, there’s the music by songwriters Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who also starred in the film. The score is a collection of richly-layered folk/rock songs; mostly evocative, heart-rending ballads with beautifully poetic lyrics. Hansard and Irglová’s song “Falling Slowly” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Then, there’s the multi-talented cast. In addition to singing and acting, the actors in Once also double as the band so every cast member also plays a musical instrument throughout the show.

Lastly, what I really loved about Once is how different it is from conventional Broadway musicals. It’s an intimate love story told in a beautifully understated way that feels so earnest and honest without so much as a hint of sappiness or sentimentality. There’s none of the usual Broadway bombast like elaborate song-and-dance production numbers, mechanized scenery or brassy-voiced singers belting their emotions to the rafters. Once is a Broadway show for people who don’t typically like Broadway shows.

At its core, Once is a threadbare story of unrequited love and intense longing between two lost souls; an Irish Guy (Ian Lake) and a Czech Girl (Trish Lindström), musicians who meet at a bar in Dublin and establish a friendship around their music and develop a deep connection that always just borders on the romantic.

There’s not much else to it. There are supporting characters, friends and family members, who come and go but the show essentially lives or dies by the ability of the performers playing Guy and Girl to develop chemistry and form a convincing onstage relationship with each other.

So, do Lake and Lindström succeed at creating this chemistry? That would be a big, resounding yes! Throughout the show the pair develop this warm friendship that feels so genuine. Through stolen glances, humour and endearingly awkward exchanges they channel an intense longing for each other that lurks just below the surface. Their sexual tension is palpable, their onstage chemistry is beautiful. I couldn’t help but get drawn in to their story, and root for their relationship and by the end of the show I’m not embarrassed to admit they left me in big a sopping mess of tears.

Lake plays Guy with enough hurt and brooding to give the powerful emotions in his songs credibility but not so dark as to be even the slightest bit off-putting. He plays guitar with panache and his voice brims with a passion and intensity that will melt your heart, especially in his solo numbers “Leave” and “Say It To Me Now”.

Lindström is pitch-perfect as Girl, her impeccable comic timing and spot-on deadpan delivery make the jokes in Enda Walsh’s script land in a way I’ve not seen any other actress playing the role achieve. She also delivers a depth to her performance where Girl’s almost startling directness and use of humour belie her underlying pain.

Lake and Lindström are supported by a consistently strong ensemble who play together beautifully and seem to have a real onstage rapport as a cast.

Seeing as Once is such an intimate story, I’m not sure about the choice to hold this run of the show in the massive Ed Mirvish Theatre. The “Eddie’s” 2,300-seat auditorium feels cavernous and the sense of intimacy that’s so crucial to allowing the audience to connect with the characters gets a bit lost in it. Mirvish blocked off the rear section of the balcony to attempt to make the space feel a little more intimate but I still think the theatre is too big for this particular show.

Luckily, the show’s big emotions project to fill the room. This Canadian production of Once is a gem. I think this cast is on par with the original Broadway cast and even better than the touring cast that previously played Toronto. If you’ve never seen the show, go! Even if you have seen it before, it’s well-worth revisiting with this amazing cast.

Oh, and one final tip; a half-hour before the show starts and during intermission patrons are welcome to come up on stage to order drinks from the bar that forms part of the set and to hang out as the cast/band do a jam session. It’s a wonderful little touch that allows audience members to immerse themselves in the show.

Details:

  • Once is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (formerly The Canon) (244 Victoria Street) through May 31, 2015
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
  • Tickets $29.00 to $130.00
  • Tickets are available by phone at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, in-person at the Royal Alexandra Theatre box office or online at Mirvish.com

Photo of Ian Lake and Trish Lindström by Cylla von Tiedemann

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