Wistful music saves touring production of ‘Once’ 

click to enlarge Once
  • Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal play the leads in the touring production of “Once.”
“Once,” the multi-Tony Award-winning musical about an Irish busker and Czech girl who bond over music in Dublin, often has a sitcom feel.

The tone of the Broadway touring production onstage at the Curran Theatre presents a stark contrast to that of the wistful slice-of-life 2006 film starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova as a Guy and Girl who have a sweet and profound effect on each other as they meet and make music together.

Subtlety is not the order of the day in this adaptation written by Enda Walsh, whose one-liners and cartoon-like supporting characters threaten to derail the tender friendship and love at the center of the story. On opening night, guffaws from the audience felt cheap, like a laugh track.

Thankfully, Hansard and Irglova’s beautiful and evocative folk-rock melodies, from the gorgeous, ubiquitous hit “Falling Slowly” (the show’s second tune) to “Gold” (played with accompaniment and reprised a cappella), keep the production sensitive and authentic.

Music supervisor Martin Lowe, who did the orchestrations, leads the wildly talented ensemble of actors, each playing an instrument with passion and skill, sometimes while dancing, too. (Steven Hoggett choreographs.)

Director John Tiffany stages the action quite cleverly, on a set that looks like the interior of a pub, with the performers seamlessly arranging and rearranging chairs, tables (and an upright piano) to evoke other places — a bank, Girl’s residence, or the music store where Girl and Guy begin to realize the power of their harmony.

Dani de Waal, as Girl, at moments is cloying, her accent and mannerisms more cutesy than real, particularly as she initially tries to get a rise out of Guy when they first meet. However, she’s particularly powerful during the young couple’s quiet, more serious encounters and confrontations, and she sings and plays piano gloriously.

By the show’s end, her connection with guitarist Guy, the winning Stuart Ward, is undeniable.

Along the way, their interactions with the silly music store owner, a ridiculous bank manager, an overly enthused fast-food worker friend and Girl’s superficially drawn family add little to the proceedings.

Still, their passion and yearning, success and failure come through in the music from start to finish. In fact, the show gets off to an interactive, naturalistic start, as audience members are invited onstage to hang with the performers as they warm up on their instruments, including banjo, violin, cello, accordion, mandolin, ukulele and concertina.



Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes July 13

Tickets: $40 to $115

Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

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Leslie Katz

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