Once on Broadway: Thank God, some people still understand how to make theatre

So let me be frank.

I probably go to the theatre more than the average person because it’s what I do.  I make theatre and I teach theatre; therefore, I also have to be a consumer of theatre.  It’s how I stay current, and hopefully I see work that inspires me to create and teach in new and different ways.

As I’ve grown older and more experienced, that last piece about inspiration very rarely happens.  Once I started studying theatre as a graduate student, it became harder and harder to feel inspired about anything.  I find it difficult to shut off my internal critic, and as a result, I end up analyzing every choice up on stage, from acting to directing to design.  Unfortunately this often makes going to the theatre a really unpleasant experience.

Case in point: I saw a certain show with a certain famous pop star the other night.  Other than a beautiful design (costumes, scenic, and lighting), the production failed miserably.  Even the pop star’s fame couldn’t make the show move along.  While disappointing, I’ve come to expect this kind of experience.  Broadway musical productions rarely satisfy beyond showcasing the newest visual innovation.  Or we get some movie or television star attempting to act in real time without stopping and starting for multiple takes.  If these actors make it through the performance without a major screw up, we think that they’re suddenly “gifted stage actors.”  Granted, there are excellent crossover actors who can go both ways, but that should never be assumed.

This afternoon I had the absolute pleasure and privilege to see the new musical Once on Broadway, based on the movie of the same name.  This show is by far one of the best new pieces of theatre that I’ve seen in at least 15 years, maybe longer.  I haven’t felt this connected to a musical since seeing Rent for the first time in 1996, and ironically, Once also originated at New York Theatre Workshop, the original off-Broadway home of Rent.

Once features outstanding performances by the two lead actors, Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti, both of whom have been nominated for Tony Awards.  Beyond these two leads, the entire ensemble turns out fantastic performances, full of energy, focus, and nuance.  Not to mention that every single one of them plays an instrument in the performance.  So the entire experience feels filled with artistry, musicianship, and sensitivity that moved me at various points throughout the show.

I could go on and on and on about this show, but instead, I’m going to make a few very clear points:

#1.  Once knows exactly what it is.  It doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is, and the entire cast and production team understand that.  Hallelujah!  This so rarely happens anymore, so when it does, it should be acknowledged.  The Tonys got it right this time with 11 nominations for this show.

#2.  The Irishness of Once is apparent from start to finish, and having spent a fair amount of time in Dublin, the authenticity ofthe storytelling is striking.

#3.  The production team has created a theatrical experience for this adaptation, not a simple replication of the movie.  But this understanding of the theatrical experience has made this production incredibly moving.  Enda Walsh (book), John Tiffany (director), and Steven Hoggett (movement) have made that translation to the stage happen in a way that I found inspiring.  The simplicity and specificity of the storytelling makes for an actor-driven event that has moments of magic that I will not soon forget.

I’m still processing the experience of seeing this performance.  My advice is to get a ticket as soon as you can.  It’s one of those moments that rarely comes around anymore.

Do it.


Do not miss Once