We all loved "Once," the movie, and got a little weepy with "Falling Slowly," the Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova song that was the best film song of the decade. Usually it's hard to top the original, but we have to say Edna Walsh's book and divine staging at the Orpheum have made "Once" (the musical) far more interesting than the film. Having a band on stage at all times, with various band members having dramatic roles to play, gives us intimacy instead of the necessary distance of a film.
There are other songs in the soundtrack, and some of them are brought to life with Stuart Ward's spectacular acoustic guitar playing, but basically this show is a One Song Wonder. And a wonder it is. Even though it was very difficult to hear or understand any lyrics, due both to the Irish and Czech accents of all the performers and perhaps under-miking at the Orpheum, these songs could just as well be in Klingon. (They may have been.) But the emotion of the performers and our desire to see Guy get Girl overcome all issues of language. He loves her. Check. She loves him. Czech. That's enough.
Other musical highlights: The opening "Leave," where somehow Ward manages not to break his guitar in half; the Czech "Ej, Pada, Pada, Rosicka," sung by Girl (Dani de Waal) and her Czech immigrant cohort; "When Your Mind's Made Up," sung by Guy and the band; and a very special soft gospel arrangement of "Gold," a song which seems trite when heard in Act One but its reprise in choir format is quite touching.
So with all those songs mentioned, how can we say "One Song Wonder?" It's just that "Falling Slowly" ear-worms into your brain and days later you are still hearing it, and this despite the fact you have to buy the CD and rip open the package to read the lyrics before you have the slightest idea what he is saying. Nahh, but you knew didn't you? Yeah. (sigh)
"Once" (the musical) won eight Tonys including Best Musical of the Year in 2012. And now, in 2015, we see and hear exactly why. But it's a very short run. Hurry, or you'll be left sitting on your chair at home.
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Once" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. The stars are for performance, staging and for Stuart Ward. The BANGLE of PRAISE is for "Falling Slowly," that stupid song that I now hate because I can't stop singing it. It's even good in Klingon.
1192 Market Street, San Francisco
Through November 1 ONLY
$65-$212 ($20 Rush Tickets available 2 hours before curtain)