Musical review: Once

ONCE by Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova and Enda Walsh (Mirvish). At the Ed Mirvish (244 Victoria). Runs to May 31..

ONCE by Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova and Enda Walsh (Mirvish). At the Ed Mirvish (244 Victoria). Runs to May 31. $29-$130. See listing. Rating: NNNNN

To paraphrase a character from the Tony Award-winning musical Once, the best songs have heart and soul. That rule applies to theatre, too, as this all-Canadian production of the show illustrates.

This is the third production of Once Ive seen, and making it work onstage is a tricky, delicate thing. It needs honesty and soul, and the leads must have chemistry (which was missing in the touring production). This version has all of that and more.

The simple story is based on the indie movie about two strangers (known only as Guy and Girl) who meet on the streets of Dublin. Hes (Ian Lake) a scruffy, busking singer/songwriter who misses his ex and is fed up with scraping by shes (Trish Lindstrom) a Czech immigrant who responds to his songs and offers to help write lyrics for them.

They each have other attachments. Will they become a pair? Bring Kleenex and find out.

At heart, Once is about seizing life, chasing love and finding joy in making music. That explains the down-home feel you get before the show begins. The audience is invited to have a drink with the ensemble at the onstage bar. Music both raucous and mournful is played, and then, gradually, the story quietly begins.

This production, directed by John Tiffany, is so solid that even a burnt-out lighting board midway through the first act and some projection problems in the second didnt affect the mood on opening day.

Lakes Guy is initially sullen and closed-off, biting off his words with a nasty sneer watching him open up and let loose emotionally and musically is cathartic.

Lindstroms Girl is at first bold and blunt, but as she begins to fall for Guy she retreats, and the actor lets you see what shes hiding in every line and quiver in her accented voice.

The ensemble is brilliant. Stephen-Guy McGrath devours his role as a boisterous, lusty music store owner, while Laurie Murdoch brings an understated charm to Guys recently widowed dad.

All the actors play instruments and move to Steven Hoggetts choreography, which is always precisely placed to express something that cant be said. Scenes blend into each other with no-fuss efficiency.

This is less a musical than a play with songs. On Bob Crowleys inviting and versatile set, they range from a simple yet haunting a cappella tune to rock ballads that swell with so much feeling theyre almost unbearable.

Dont miss this production.

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