Broadway’s Once Improves on Film Version

Broadway’s Once Improves on Film Version

Earlier, this week my dad came to visit and we saw Once, the Broadway version of one of his favorite movies. The show is set in Dublin, Ireland and follows the unconventional love story of two unnamed songwriters—known as “Guy” and “Girl”—who help each other to create music and follow their dreams.

Photo: © 2013, Joan Marcus
Paul Alexander Nolan and Joanna Christie

Once is a great musical for people who don’t usually enjoy musicals. My dad normally gets frustrated when actors burst into song for no particular reason, but as this show is about a guitarist and pianist, it makes more sense that they frequently sing. Plus, the songs themselves lean more toward folk ballads: this isn’t your average showtune-laden, over-the-top production.

When we arrived, cast members were already on stage performing folk songs. Even more surprisingly, audience members were also on stage, grabbing drinks from the bar-cum-backdrop and admiring the set, which was covered in antique-looking mirrors and faux candlelight. As showtime grew near, ushers guided the crowd to their seats and the band segued into the first song of the night.

Standby Jessie Fisher played Girl the night I saw the show and though this is Fisher’s Broadway debut, she was just as professional and confident as the actors around her. Her energetic character is a hopeless romantic, encouraging vacuum repairman Guy (Paul Alexander Nolan) to record his songs and move to New York to chase his girlfriend, but she’s also brutally honest. “I’m always serious; I’m Czech,” she tells Guy.

Photo: © 2013, Joan Marcus
The ensemble cast dances across stage with their instruments.

The songs in Once span a range of emotions from the humor of Guy’s ditty “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” to the sadness of Girl’s truly heart-breaking solo “The Hill.” Best of all, Once’s lovelorn hit “Falling Slowly” is performed twice during the show. The Oscar-winning song, which was originally written and performed by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, rose to fame shortly after the movie’s 2006 release. Though their version is just as gorgeous, it was an entirely different and thrilling experience to hear “Falling Slowly” performed live with a 12-piece band.

While the original film featured low-key moments of comedy, the musical is much snappier. There are more jokes—when Guy performs as “The Hoover Man” at an open mic, someone quips “he’s gonna suck”—and more pop culture references—Girl fist-bumps her daughter and the piano shop owner. The live performance also more upbeat with the ensemble cast galloping around the stage as they play their instruments and Girl’s Czech flatmates dancing on tables during “Ej, Pada, Pada, Rosicka.”

If you’re looking for a show that will please Broadway fans and music snobs alike, Once is a great choice. Find tickets online at

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