Girl finds Guy singing on the street and is impressed with his talent. An instant friendship blossoms between them and Girl decides to help Guy record a demo and go to New York to fulfill his potential and possibly to avoid the love that is beginning to bloom between them. This is Once with book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It is based off the film of the same name and is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
This is definitely an original musical. It’s a shockingly simple tale that does have a bit of a twist on the usual love story. There’s no sense of history to the two unnamed characters. It’s as if the play knows it’s a play and the existence of these 2 people is limited solely to the duration of the show. The music is the real centerpiece of the show as the songs often tell the story and reveal the emotions of the characters in lieu of dialogue which is surprisingly scant. The music also has a power of its own as it brings the characters in this show closer together and breaks down barriers between them. I thought not naming the two leads was a clever touch as it can either transmit a universal message or simply allow the audience to place himself or herself in the roles.
Kimberly Faith Hickman’s directing is quite lovely. There’s a purity to the staging as it takes place in a bare bones stage designed by Jim Othuse. It’s literally bare, dilapidated walls with a window looking out at a building. Hickman makes good use of the performance space, well placing the actors so all can be seen even when the focus is on particular characters. I also liked how she used placement to further the story. For example, at one point when a wedge is driven between the two leads, they are literally separated as they take positions on opposite sides of the stage with the rest of the cast standing between them. I also thought she charmed some sweet performances out of her leads and strong supporting performances from the ensemble.
The cast for this show is unique as they are also the orchestra. This leads to an interesting casting challenge as one needs to find performers who can act, sing and play musical instruments. That challenge is met fairly well in this production. Under Jim Boggess’ direction, the orchestra provides a very moving score which is absolutely critical for this show as nearly every song carries a somber, emotional tone that needs to grab the viewer by the throat. Boggess also has a very fine cameo performance as Eamo who runs the local recording studio. Other strong supporting performances come from Joey Hartshorn, who has the most drawn out wishing of good luck imaginable in “Baruska’s Story”, and Thomas Gjere as an overly serious bank manager who secretly wishes to be a singer and gets his chance in the terrifically awful “Abandoned in Bandon”.
Melissa King is truly a triple threat in this show. Her piano playing is heavenly. Her alto is superb. Her acting is spot on. Heck, she even throws in a little impressive hoofing in “Ej Pada Pada”. King’s performance as the serious Czech (because Czechs are always serious) Girl is simply a triumph and will assuredly make her a contender for some awards. She’s got a vital spark of humor and playfulness about her as well as a very nurturing nature as she encourages Guy’s music. This is a character who understands the meaning of sacrifice as she’s willing to give up a blossoming love with Guy to repair her own fractured family unit. King will also melt the coldest of hearts with her singing, especially with her rendering of “Falling Slowly” and “The Hill”.
Jay Hanson acquits himself rather admirably in the role of Guy. For a performer with no prior stage credits, Hanson has some excellent instincts. He reacts very well and knows how to be in the moment. Musically, he’s unbeatable. Hanson is a top flight guitar player and singer who effortlessly picks apart the emotional beats of a song. Whether he’s singing about a failed relationship in “Leave”, providing a bit of humor in “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” or just dazzling you with “Gold” and “Sleeping”, Hanson provides an Epicurean delight for the ears.
Hanson did need to tighten his cues up and rushed his dialogue on some occasions. You also felt his grip on the role tightening over the course of the play and he was finding some real gems in the words by the end.
Jim Othuse’s lights were simple, but effective as he used a spotlight to highlight the featured characters of a scene. Amanda Fehlner’s costumes suited the characters from the inexpensive clothing of most of the poorer characters to the snazzy suit of the well to do bank manager. Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco provide some nice ambient sounds. My personal favorite was a moment when Guy and Girl are at the docks and you hear the rolling waves and the call of seagulls.
Ultimately this is a story about pure love. The love that is principle over passion. The love that is unbreakable and forever. The love that can say, “I let you go.”
Once plays at Omaha Community Playhouse through March 22. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $24 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com. Due to the use of strong language, parental discretion is advised. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.
Photo provided by Robertson Photography