Advance Tickets Recommended
Steve Kazee, Cristin Milioti, David Abeles, Will Connolly, Elizabeth A. Davis, David Patrick Kelly, Anne L. Nathan, Lucas Papaelias, Ripley Sobo, Andy Taylor, McKayla Twiggs, Erikka Walsh, Paul Whitty, J. Michael Zygo
1, 2, 3, 7, N, Q, R, S, W at Times Sq.-42nd St.
||Every Tue, 7pm; Wed-Sat, 8pm; Wed, Sat, 2pm; Sun, 3pm|
We defenders of Once
have a lot to answer for. After all, any thinking grown-up can mount a
frontal assault on this show, a brazenly twee stage adaptation of the
2006 crypto-movie-musical — itself hardly immune to a critique of
half-concealed too-cuteness. Shot guerrilla-style and starring real-life
rockmates Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova as down-at-the-heel
musicians who meet cute on the street-busker scene in Dublin, Once: The Movie is basically The Blair Witch Project for Youtroubadours — all the old familiar cheese, served in the artfully crumpled newspaper of vérité.
Imagine if this same story had been set and shot in Williamsburg,
Brooklyn, without the accents and the international flavor. It would’ve
been deemed insufferable. (And barfed immediately out of American
theaters by the very hipsters it was designed to hook, no matter how
earwormy its soundtrack.)
But that’s exactly why I prefer the clumsier, more explicit puppydog charms of Once: The Stage Musical.
Yes, the show retains the film’s relentlessly self-congratulatory
backbeat, its faintly desperate overpraise of any and all autumnal
folk-rock emitted by The Guy (Steve Kazee) — to whose
diamond-in-the-rough genius every character must systematically
genuflect — and its insistence on the faerie magic of The Girl (Cristin
Milioti), chief facilitator of The Guy’s delayed artistic apotheosis and
the manic pixie dream girl
to end all manic pixie dream girls. (Finally, this much-abused
character has come home to her natural environment: a stage musical
about quirky, earnest young musicians. Welcome ... to Gig-adoon!) And
yes, the supporting ensemble — with their matted, superfluous subplots
grown out to extend the running time to a probably unnecessary two acts
and two-hours-plus — is a gang of adorable misfits so strenuously
Muppetlike, you can practically see the felt stitching. (The entire
second act could be retitled The Electric Mayhem Goes Emo.) Once is three chords and endless manipulations.
But oh, to be young and manipulable! Even bloated to Broadway proportions (an unnatural fit with the show’s pubby intimacy and, occasionally, with its shakily scaled-up acoustics), Once returned me — nearly against my will — to my youthful fields of blarney. (If ever a show needed younger audiences, perhaps even at the expense of its bottom line, it’s this one.) Perhaps that’s no surprise, given the creative talents assembled here. I’m already on the record as a sucker for the dreamy choreography of Steven Hoggett (who is again partnered with Black Watch director John Tiffany), and I have bottomless admiration for Enda Walsh’s book, which expands (even overexpands) a minimalist screenplay into a richly textured stage environment, polka-dotted with humor and meditations on Irish pride. Finally, we come to Kazee and Milioti, performers of tremendous appeal, each equipped with a soulful, heart-cracking wail and a counterbalancing sense of humor. (Kazee is a sorcerer of sexily recessed charisma, while Milioti disguises a repetitive and potentially irritating character as a rom-com masterpiece. She might be a bit of a genius.) You’ve seen these types before, perhaps too often. But these two more than freshen things up — they present the credible illusion of a First Time. They make us forget, for hours at a stretch, that we’re watching a show that’s simply falling slowly in love with itself.
As part of this year’s Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction, you can prebid (at broadwaycares.org) for walk-on roles in this and eight other musicals. The event itself is September 23 in Shubert Alley.