TR Robertson — Eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, a Drama Desk Award for Best Musical and a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album, this is only part of the legacy of the 2011 musical “Once”, currently on stage at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. This tender, passionate, melancholy musical is rich with emotion and foot stomping songs as the story unfolds of a struggling forlorn Dubliner musician’s life which changed by the chance encounter with an in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is Czech woman.
“Once”, the musical, is taken from the 2007 film, by John Carney, of the same name. The music and lyrics are by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The book for the musical was written by Enda Walsh. The Lamb’s production is under the direction of Kerry Meads, Lamb’s Educational Outreach director and Lamb’s Associate Artistic Director.
Photos by Ken Jacques
What makes this musical a favorite for many is the intimacy of the staging and the overall feeling you are occasionally allowed to “touch” part of the world the characters on stage live in for a short period of time. Along with this, a selection of Irish songs are being performed as patrons wander the stage and the audience is encouraged to join in on songs they may know. Prior to the beginning of the musical, patrons are allowed to walk on stage and order a selection of drinks from the Irish bar. This bar and the rest of the set will remain the focal point of the stage and will always be in the background, even when the various scenes move to the actor referred to as Guy’s home, or the actress referred to as Girl’s home or Billy’s music shop, or a recording studio, etc. Props will quickly move in and out, brought in by a variety of cast members and many times done so to different songs in the musical.
The key to this musical is the strong cast selected to portray the leads and supporting cast and Lamb’s has “done it right” with this cast. Playing Guy is returning Lamb’s veteran Michael Louis Cusimano. Cusimano presents the struggling Irish musician with wonderful passion and melancholy. Each of the actors and actresses play a variety of instruments and Cusimano opens the play on the streets of Dublin, playing the guitar and singing a song, “Leave”, symbolizing his current state of indecision and lostness. He is slowly joined on stage by cast members with their instruments, who will disappear, one by one, leaving Guy alone on stage. Cusimano, as Guy, will sing a number of stand-out songs throughout the play, “Say It to Me Now”, “Gold:, “Sleeping” and more. Playing Girl, a Czech girl living with her daughter and a houseful of relatives, is Caitie Grady, who has performed in over 30 Lamb’s Players productions. Grady handles the biting no non-sense comments and humor of Girl with ease and her melodic voice is magical throughout the musical. The award winning song, “Falling Slowly”, is a powerful love song Girl and Guy sing together with beautiful harmony. Grady’s beautiful rendition of “The Hill” is haunting.
Manny Fernandes, as Billy, returns to the Lamb’s Players stage as the overly agitated music shop owner and who shows great dexterity with a number of what might be called karate moves, when he show Guy what might happen to him if doesn’t behave around Girl. The rest of the tremendous supporting cast flows through a variety of roles depending on the scene. One minute they might be patrons of the Irish bar, the next they may be part of the Girl’s Czech relatives or they might be members of the band the Guy puts together to make his demo CD. Wonderful singing voices, a tremendous mixture of playing numerous instruments, an ability to switch from Irish to Czech voices, all standout as another reason this production of “Once” makes this one of Lamb’s Players Theatre best all-encompassing productions they have staged and they have staged quite a few.
The supporting cast included Abigail Allwein as Ex-Girlfriend (Abigail play one mesmerizing violin), Kent Brisby as Da, Temi Hason as Reza, Jimmy Marino as Emcee, Luke Monday as Andre, Dave Rumley as Eamon, Arusi Santi as Svec, Deborah Gilmouur Smyth as Baruska and James Michael McHale as Bank Manager. For the evening we were there Bianca Rodriguez played Girl’s daughter, Ivanka.
The Creative Team for Once included Musical Director G. Scott Lacy, Choreographer Colleen Kollar Smith, Scenic Designer Sean Fanning, Costume Designer Jeanne Reith, Light Designer Nathan Peirson, Projection Designer Michael McKeon, Sound Designer Patrick J. Duffy, Property Master Rachel Hengst and Stage Manager Maria Mangiavellano.
This musical is about love. It does have a somewhat happy ending, but not in the way you might expect it to end. The Girl says to the Guy, “You cannot walk through life with unfinished love”. This is a struggle to get both to realize this. She also says, “Your songs have heart and soul, songs for anyone who has lost a love”. By writing and singing these songs, both of them will find the direction their life should take.
“Once” will run at Lamb’s Players Theatre until July 22nd. The theatre is located at 1142 Orange Avenue in Coronado. Tickets can be purchased at www.lambplayers.org or call 619-437-6000. Next up for Lamb’s Players Theatre is “A Jewel in the Crown City” beginning on August 24th.