“Once” breathes new life into the genre at the Curran Theater

Musicals – they just don’t do it like they used to, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Musicals like Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” ushered in a new era of contemporary musicals that flourished and conquered the Great White Way. Moving away from the traditional form, these new musicals changed the very culture of Broadway as we know it. Joining recent Broadway big names such as “Spring Awakening” and “The Book of Mormon” is “Once” – the 2012 Tony-sweeper that opened in San Francisco on the Curran Stage on Tuesday.

“Once,” based on the 2007 Irish independent film of the same name, tells a familiar story. A boy meets a girl. They make music together. They fall in love. In the film, the real musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are the two main characters known simply as Guy and Girl. Together they wrote, composed and performed all of the original songs in the film. With its captivating soundtrack, the obscure independent Hansard and Irglova film found its way to the Oscars in 2007 and won the award for best original song for the ballad “Falling Slowly”.

The musical retains much of the rawness and naturalistic appeal of its predecessor. Unlike a typical Broadway show, “Once” features no tap acts, elaborate rotating ensembles, or large hidden orchestras. In fact, the entire show takes place in an archaic Dublin bar – one designed by Bob Crowley and lit by Natasha Katz, who both won Tony Awards for their design work. Taking live theater to a whole new level, before the show and during intermission, audience members are invited to mingle with the cast members and encouraged to have a pint or two at the makeshift bar.

Ultimately, the heart of the musical masterpiece lies simply and utterly in its melancholy yet majestic score and the comedian-musicians on stage who bring the melodic tunes to life. They are contemporary multi-instrumentalists and dancers with Broadway vocals and a collective talent that far exceeds that of your average Broadway cast.

In the stage show, the Guy (Stuard Ward) is an Irish busker by night and a “Hoover Repairman” (the Irish term for vacuum cleaner) by day. Heartbroken by his ex-girlfriend who moved to New York a few months ago, he expresses his frustration in song through the opening number “Leave”. The girl (Dani de Waal), who is in the audience, is moved by the performance and insists that he repair her “Hoover”. In exchange, she would pay for it in music. The two meet in a music store and together perform the haunting “Falling Slowly”. She pushes him to pursue his musical dreams and ultimately helps him create a demo. Somewhere along the way, they fall in love despite their other romantic entanglements. Beautiful music follows.

De Waal dazzles and impresses as a girl. The British actress perfectly captures both the original and charismatic charm of the character while highlighting her strengths and struggles as a single mother in a foreign country. Aside from “Falling Slowly” and the dynamic ensemble numbers, “Gold” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up”, “If You Want Me” and “The Hill” by De Waal are the two most fascinating and alluring performances. of all the work. .

“Once” is the kind of musical that will make you feel completely inadequate. The talent of the performers and the transformative power of the musical score are immensely overwhelming, in the best sense of the word. It’s a delicately crafted theatrical gem unlike any other and will remind audiences of what really makes a great musical – the music.

“Once” plays Curran Theater in San Francisco until July 13.

Michelle Lin covers the theater. Contact her at [email protected].

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