Friday, August 8, 2014

Once at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California


I am fortunate to have the opportunity to see many musicals each year, and not all of them are winners, but many are very good and some are winners. We saw the touring production of Once at the Pantages Theatre on opening weekend, and it was one of the winners.

The Pantages is a real throwback and is one of the oldest theatres in the Los Angeles area. It opened in 1930, and survived the transition to a movie house and back to a regular theatre, and it got a full restoration about 10 years ago. This is a huge theatre, which plays a bit into how this show is received.

Once is a pretty new show that is based on a 2007 film of the same name. It is a story of unrequited love between two young musicians who have a lot of other stuff going on in their lives. Their relationship cannot go anywhere, but the true beauty of the story is in the caring they show for each other. Set in Dublin, there is an undercurrent of conflict due to diversity of the population, and this plays in to the story as well.

John Carney’s film was very good, but it did not have a big budget and did not get a lot of traction in its original release, but it did come away with an Academy Award for best song with “Falling Slowly.”. It Broadway incarnation got the full treatment under the direction of Diane Paulus, with a book by Edna Walsh and music by Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova, and it went on to win 8 Tony Awards in 2012. Supposedly the story is based on the relationship between Hansard and Iglova (the stars if the film) – believe it or not.

I was warned ahead of time to show up early for the show and was a little gobsmacked to see a lot of the audience on the stage. The set is a bar, and the audience was invited up to buy drinks and be entertained by the musicians onstage. After the audience was shooed away the musicians remained, and it turned out that they were the actors and musicians for the show. By the way, the audience was invited up again at the intermission.

The bar set took up the entire stage and remained up for the who show. It has mirrors everywhere so the audience did not miss any of the action on the stage. Small scenic elements were brought on and off the stage to transform it into a home, a recording studio, and a bank. The actors were the musicians, and when they were not in the scene they would sit off to the sides and play the melodies as needed.

The cast was incredible, and they were all first rate singers and musicians, and they all had great stage presence. The leads were played by Stuart Ward (Guy) and Dani de Waal (girl), and they were convincing actors with tremendous voices (plus they played a mean guitar and piano, respectively). The other 11 members of the cast portrayed the girl’s family and the town’s people and they fleshed out the rest of the story nicely. John Tiffany directed this production with Martin Lowe as musical director and Steven Hoggett as choreographer.

The rest of the pieces all fell into place for this one. The costumes were simple, but worked, and the lighting from Natasha Katz was remarkable. The songs are all very solid and heartfelt, and for a change the sound in the house was very good. The Pantages is a huge hall that is tough to fill properly with sound, and this is the closest they have gotten in recent history. Once has a quiet and intimate feel, and it would really be better suited to a smaller venue.

Once is a charming show, and there is a good reason why it won all of those Tony awards -- it could be the best new musical of the decade. From the cast to the music to the staging they got everything right on this one, and you should make the time to see it if you get the opportunity.

Your chance to see Once at the Pantages in Hollywood is almost over, as it closes on August 10, but this is a touring company that has a lot of stops left (including San Diego and Costa Mesa for you locals) so you still have the chance to track it down and see it for yourself.


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