From the big screen to the stage, the story of Once has struck a chord with audiences all around the world since its inception in 2007, evoking tears of laughter, tears of joy and tears of sadness. Making its long-awaited return to Melbourne, this award-winning production from Darlinghurst Theatre Company is a truly enchanting musical that will leave you awestruck.
Based on the Oscar-winning 2007 John Carney film of the same name, Once is a tender love story about a down-on-his-luck Irish musician, Guy, and an enthusiastic Czech piano player, Girl, who takes a keen interest in his music. Over the course of a week, they remind each other what it feels like to reach for your dreams, growing ever closer and connecting through the power of music.
Take any typical musical and look at its most iconic musical numbers – the music is accompanied by elaborate choreography, flashy costumes and wonderfully vibrant sets. All of these elements work so well in unison that you couldn’t imagine stripping it all back to just the music. In Once, the costumes are muted, the choreography is grounded and the cast doubles as the orchestra, placing all of the focus on the eclectic mix of beautiful instrumental music and the immensely talented musicians on stage. Not to discredit the stellar work of the movement director or costume designer, but these musical numbers rely on sheer musical talent to keep audiences locked in and transfixed on this budding love story.
The instrumental work in this production is some of the best I’ve ever witnessed. It’s not often we get to see the orchestra highlighted in such a way that we can see the raw passion that goes into playing these instruments, so it feels like a blessing to have everyone on stage while performing. Each member of the cast is truly gifted – watching as they all rotate between various instruments throughout the show is one of the most impressive feats I’ve ever seen. Whether they be taking turns playing the piano or swapping out a guitar for a banjo or a violin, it all adds to the wow-factor of each song.
The touching narrative at the centre of this production is uplifting yet heartbreaking, constantly tugging on those heartstrings through both song and dialogue. None of the conversations feel forced, cliché or contrived – these feel like real people going through life-changing and eye-opening experiences, and it works to create a greater connection with the audience.
The first act is a brilliant mix of emotionally heavy character development and hilarious moments of levity. From scene to scene, the dialogue naturally and seamlessly shifts from heartfelt to comedic and back again in an instant, with each and every performer contributing to both sides of the coin. The upbeat nature of certain characters, as well as the characteristic wit and charm of Girl, had the entire audience laughing in unison from the opening exchange. Just as quickly as the audience would erupt with laughter, they were hushed to silence when the sombre beats kicked in – evident of the grip this story had on the entire Comedy Theatre.
Following the intermission, the second act brings about a downpour of emotion. It certainly weaves in the great amount of comedy, but it’s the beautiful culmination of the characters’ respective journeys that takes centre stage. It becomes a celebration of newfound life, love and purpose, sending the entire audience home with a message they can apply to their own lives.
Within this talented cast lies Stefanie Caccamo’s utterly breathtaking performance as Girl. Her ability to drop quick-witted lines of dialogue with such perfect comedic timing is fantastic to watch, while her overall delivery is so deft and poignant that it’s easy to get swept up in the good vibes she brings to the stage. Then there’s her singing performance – a truly immaculate showstopper. Her work on the piano is graceful and her solo performance of The Hill late in act II is a sight to behold.
The rest of the cast doesn’t disappear into the background by any means. Toby Francis delivers a great accompanying performance and bounces off Stefanie’s uplifting vibe really well. He too amplifies the emotion of the narrative while bringing a quirky touch through the character of Guy. Anthony Craig has a few standout scenes as the Bank Manager that had the audience damn-near falling off their seats laughing, a testament to his comedic flair and very versatile instrumental talents. Lastly, Jay Laga’aia doesn’t have a massive role as Da, but he’s very impactful within his short heartfelt moments alongside Toby.
Immerse yourself in this warm, emotionally charged musical, where the wonderfully gifted performers double as the orchestra and their instrumental talents take the limelight. The story is one of love, life and achieving one’s dreams, guaranteed to touch the hearts of anyone who invests in the life of Girl and Guy, and the connection they share through their combined love of music. Once is an outstanding production that uses the foundation of its record-breaking, award-winning music to enhance a story worth witnessing or revisiting whenever you have the chance.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Once is now playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne through to June 4th, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets, head HERE.
Reviewer attended on Tuesday May 9th, 2023.
Photo credit: Robert Catto