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Review: Broadway in Chicago’s ‘Once’

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Alex Nee and Dani de Waal in Broadway in Chicago's "Once," which runs through June 7. (Photo courtesy of BROADWAY IN CHICAGO)

Alex Nee and Dani de Waal in Broadway in Chicago’s “Once,” which runs through June 7. (Photo courtesy of BROADWAY IN CHICAGO)

The Tony Award winning “Once” has made its way to Chicago this month for a brief but magical time. Directed by John Tiffany, the production’s catching narrative, brilliant music and bold heart have crowned it as a cornerstone in the theater community over the last couple of years. Its book-to-film-to-stage adaptation is rare feat but the translation operates seamlessly.

“Once” chronicles the journey of a troubled and heartbroken man in Dublin who has fallen out of love with the music he makes as a street musician. Though his life has spiraled downward, it looks up quickly when he encounters a spirited woman who encourages him to pursue his dream once more. As the two delve into music and come to know one another, they rediscover new truths about life and about the potential that lies within each of them. The production is bathed in music written by Glen Hansard and carries its quiet heart with dignity and warmth.

It is impossible to determine if story or song takes precedence in this show; they are equally dynamic and well crafted. Numbers like the famous “Falling Slowly” deliver the expectations that they have become surrounded by in recent years while the narrative arc that exists within the show takes the musical to new and enthralling heights.

Though the cast is dynamic as a whole, Dani de Waal shines as the effervescent and intelligent protagonist. She is never given a name, though her spirit, energy and gentle humor guide and light the show. Her presence is moving and her voice is inimitable.

Alex Nee is similarly captivating in his portrayal of the story’s weathered protagonist. His dynamism and growth bring important and touching movement to the production. His presence seems to fit with de Waal’s like a puzzle piece. The two are distinct but never overpower or overshadow the other’s performance. The role will be played by Ryan Link Jun 5-7.

The rest of the talented cast provides humor, strength, sadness, and joy to the production all at once. Each an every member makes unique thematic and musical contributions to the tight-knit production. Musical numbers like the beautiful, “Gold” demonstrate their impressive talent and synchrony.

Visually, there are no elaborate and intricate set changes but the scenic design is impressively nuanced. A large mirror reflects the actors from new and interesting angles and beautiful lights and key props transport the audience onto rooftops, through homes, and into music venues. This versatility is a pleasure to behold, and complements the talent that resides on stage perfectly.

“Once” is the kind of musical that refrains from inundating you. Instead, it lets its incredible music and unforgettable characters speak for themselves. It is somehow quite and loud, subtle and momentous, and heartbreaking and joyful simultaneously. Though “Once” is leaving Chicago far too soon, perhaps it is fitting that its departure will be as bittersweet as the beautiful lessons that it has to teach us.

1 Comment

One Response to “Review: Broadway in Chicago’s ‘Once’”

  1. Correction on June 4th, 2015 6:23 pm

    The part of Guy on Tues, Wed, and Thursday this week was played by Alex Nee.

    [Reply]

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Review: Broadway in Chicago’s ‘Once’