Arts Club Theatre Company
Once by Enda Walsh, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

Dates and Venue June 14–July 29, 2018, (up to July 15) Mon–Thu at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8pm, Wed at 1:30pm, and Sat at 2pm (after July 15) Tues–Thu at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8pm, Sat at 2pm, and Sun at 1:30pm & 7:30pm | Granville Island Stage

Director Bill Millerd Musical Director Steven Charles Set and Lighting Design Ted Roberts Costume Design Kirsten McGhie Choreographer Scott Augustine Sound Design Ace Martens Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes

Reviewer Erin Jane

Once is the touching, bittersweet story of a heartbroken Irish guy who meets a free-spirited, enchanting young Czech girl while busking on the streets of downtown Dublin, and it has touching, bittersweet music to match. All I knew about this show was one song, "Falling Slowly". It is a beautiful, affecting piece of music with heart-wrenching melodies and poignant lyrics. What else do you need in a love song, anyways? The actual performance and storyline has this "flagship song" (if you will) woven throughout, reprised several times in little bits and pieces, which worked fine for me, as that is exactly the way I like to listen to music I like - on repeat.

This is a "girl meets boy" story, and playwright Enda Walsh (who adapted the play from John Carney's film by the same name) uses simply "Girl" and "Guy" to name our two leads. When our Girl, who hails from the Czech Republic, first meets our Boy, he is singing and playing a song called "Leave" on a Dublin street. While the play as a whole is an ensemble effort to be sure, Adrian Glynn McMorran certainly holds his own as a stand-alone lead; his voice has incredible texture and beautiful, unique tone. You can honestly hear his heart breaking in his voice. It's no wonder our Girl (played by Gili Roskies) is drawn to him immediately, remarking "your heart is not finished, I can hear it in your voice."

Soon they are collaborating together on one of the songs he's written, she on the piano and he on guitar. Musically speaking, they are a perfect match. Romantically speaking, it is still up for debate. Accompanying them is a full team of musicians so talented that I am compelled to shout every single one out by name: Marlene Ginader as Reza, an electrifying and sexy-dancing violin player, Alison Jenkins as Baruska, who doubles as our Girl's mother, as well as playing accordion, piano, percussion, and penny whistle, Erik Gow switches between piano, guitar, banjo and cajon, Sarah Donald as Ex-Girlfriend on violin and cajon, the adorably hilarious Chris Cochrane as Billy, the music shop owner-turned-bandmate on guitar, melodica, tambourine, drums and more, Caitriona Murphy as Bank Manager-turned-cello player, John Murphy as Da (our guy's father), incredibly earnest and lovable in this supportive role and on mandolin, Alexander Nicoll as Svec, our Girl's roommate on mandolin, banjo, drums, ukelele and more, Scott Perrie as Andrej (another roommate) on bass and guitar, and let's not forget little Ivanka played bravely by Vera Frederickson in her Arts Club debut (though at her young age she already impressively has two Vancouver Opera credits to her name).

Amongst all of these vibrant and incredibly talented players, McMorran and Roskies shine like two luminous moons in a sky full of stars. Ordinarily, I would have scrapped this simile as "way too cheesy" but since this is Once, and because I'm still feeling emotionally charged from the experience, I will leave it. Roskies has the charisma and lovableness of a brunette Isla Fisher, and a voice reminiscent of one of my favourite female vocalists, Sarah Slean. In spite of claiming to be "always serious... I'm Czech," Roskies delivers a whimsical performance with a sweet pure tone. McMorran complements her perfectly both musically and theatrically, as he balances out her charming playfulness with his serious, deeply sensitive manner.

My final acknowledgement must go to the piano itself. Yes - a piano. An unassuming piano with a nice tone and just the right amount of echo. A piano so important and so lovely and beloved that it gets its own special greeting from our Girl. A piano, which in the second act, is the central object to a scene where I was officially overcome with emotion.

Lastly, as if we weren't all on the brink of tears already, Once is Bill Millerd's final season as Artistic Managing Director of the Arts Club Theatre Company after 46 years of service. I was so honoured that I could attend Mr. Millerd's final Directing role. It goes without saying that he is leaving ridiculous-sized shoes to fill and will be incredibly missed.

© 2018 Erin Jane