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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Once (Darlinghurst Theatre Company) at Comedy Theatre - 120 minutes, plus a 20-minute interval

A brilliant slice of musical theatre, Once has an inspiring, ear and eye pleasing balance of heart and humour.

Based on the 2007 movie by John Carney, it concerns a struggling Irish musician on the verge of giving up and an effervescent Czech woman.

The latter (Stefanie Caccamo) sees the guy (Toby Francis), guitar in hand, singing what he intends to be his last song and praises him for it.

Photos by Robert Catto

He – who works with his father as a vacuum cleaner repairman – is taken aback at her boldness … her “won’t take ‘no’ for an answer” attitude.

He wrote the song for a woman he loves (Ruby Clark), who left him six months ago to pursue a life in New York.

Now the Czech girl, who works in a struggling music shop, encourages the guy to press on with his original music.

Over the space of a week, the pair forms a strong and meaningful relationship.

Both are “into” each other, but the girl – who is a fine piano player – is dealing with her own issues.

With a book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Once holds a unique place in musical history.

It is the only Broadway show with music that has won an Oscar, a Grammy, an Olivier Award and a Tony Award.

In fact, it received eight Tonys, including Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.

Set on the streets of Dublin, the tender love story is infused with charm and character.

It is beautifully written and directed. I couldn't be more fulsome in my praise.

Let from the front by an emotionally mature and musically polished Stefanie Caccamo, the performances are wonderful.

With a silky-smooth voice, Caccamo comes across as a huge natural talent, with an innate ability to deliver comedic zingers without pretence.

Toby Francis, too, excels as a man whose head is turned … who is shaken up by the appearance of his unexpected saviour.

We watch on with delight as he transitions his character – complete with an impressive vocal range – into one of self-belief.

In fine style, Rupert Reid plays up the protective jocularity associated with the passionate music shop owner, Billy.

Anthony Craig has many moments to savour as a bank manager cum musical wannabe who displays sensitivity and endeavour.

That includes a scene-stealing few minutes when he breaks into song in front of the guy and girl that have approached him for a loan.

Victoria Falconer has her time to shine as seductress Reza.

Pavan Kumar Hari plays heavy metal drummer and coffee addict Svec with distinction.

Jay Laga’aia brings a delightful bearish restraint to the Hoover guy’s father, Da.

There is not a weak note in what is a truly stellar showing by a highly talented ensemble, all of whom play a range of musical instruments and sing.

In other words, the actors double as the show’s band.

The set, by Hugh O’Connor, consists of a bar, a makeshift music shop with movable piano and a corner for the guy’s threadbare room.

The lighting by Peter Rubie, which struck me as representing “moonbeams”, is another standout feature.

Once is a conflagration of the grand – a script that can move mountains, music to stir the soul and performances that delight and excel.

Having been totally engaged and thoroughly entertained, I walked out of the Comedy Theatre feeling elated.

Directed by Richard Carroll, with musical direction by Victoria Falconer, Once is playing until 4th June, 2023.


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