Review: Once The Musical

Posted by Matt Bourne on 04:32 with No comments
Once The Musical
Phoenix Theatre, London

Every so often a musical or play comes along that you just weren't expecting, that just fills your whole being with soaring delight, that you can't stop thinking about it once you've left the theatre.  Once The Musical is one of these shows.  It opened on Broadway in 2011 and was welcomed with open arms a surprise smash hit winning 8 Tony Awards in the process.  It has now moved to London with high hopes of translating the success here.

Based on the Oscar winning 2006 movie of the same name & set in Dublin, it tells the story of a Guy & Girl, simply named Guy & Girl, who meet while Guy (Declan Bennett) is singing in a local bar.  He also fixes broken vacuum cleaners which cheers Girl (Zrinka Cvitešić) as she has one that needs fixing.  She can't pay him with money but offers to pay him with music.  From here a friendship blossoms that has it's complications.  He is suffering from a broken heart and she has a daughter with her daughters father still on the scene.  This sets the stage for one of the most beautiful romantic stories to start to unravel on the stage before your eyes. Leaving you breathless come the final curtain call.

Once The Musical, adapted from Enda Walsh's original story, is a musical not like your usual West End show. For starters when you arrive in the auditorium for the show the on stage bar is fully open to the public and you are actively encouraged to head up on stage for a pint.  From here the actor/musicians in the cast mingle with the crowd on stage and begin to start playing and singing which feels like a good old Irish Céilidh which everyone's invited to.  From this point you feel transported to the bar and are witnessing the events unfold for real.  Working much better than a usual gimmick this really provides inclusion into the atmosphere.  The actor/musicians all sit around the edges of the stage throughout dipping in and out of the music and story as and when required.

The cast are absolutely first class from top to bottom, and all engender you into the story like you are a family friend.  Declan Bennett is out of this world good as Guy, as you watch him become the living embodiment of every word and every song during the performance.  The words and music coarse through his soul and it's an incredible thing to watch.  It's as if he wrote  Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová's music and lyrics himself. The raw emotion on his face is incredible and anyone who isn't moved by this performance should probably be checking their pulse on the way out. Zrinka Cvitešić touching, tender and driven performance as Girl compliments Bennett fantastically too.  Her beautiful tone and delicately delivered vocals enrich Bennetts raw emotion to create some distinctly enchanting duets.  Another richly emotional performance that makes this show an absolute must see.

The rest of the cast all give their all in career performances, from Aidan Kelly's hilarious Billy, the stunning Flora Spencer-Longhurst and Miria Parvin as Riza and ex-girlfriend respectively.  Micheal O'Connor's tender Da, Valda Avik bold Baruska all light up the performance.  Ryan Fletcher's Svec is especially as great as his natural rhythm and Gareth O'Connor's subtle underplayed Eamon has a hidden gravitas to it. Finally Jos Slovik as Andre and Jez Unwin (who is an absolute dead ringer for John Turturro) round off an impeccable cast.

It really is a top notch cast for a top notch show and it really deserves to be one of the West End's newest long running shows.  John Carney and his team have done a incredible job putting Once The Musical together for London.  They have created a truly amazing romantic story for the ages that defies the usual musical theatre tropes to create an musical experience like no other in the West End currently.  You may just find yourself shedding a tear at the end too. They say a mirror is like a window to another world, well the mirrored stage will take you off to a world you won't want to return from anytime soon.

Haunting, Evocative, Essential.

Matt Bourne