I go to the Aronoff for “Once”

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Outside the theatre, people had the opportunity to share their love story on these cards. These are the best ones we found. (Photo courtesy, Kate Gandenberger ’13)

Kristen Gandenberger ’15

On Tuesday, November 18th I had the opportunity to go to the Aronoff to see the 2012 musical Once. I’ve been a fan of music from this show for awhile, so I was extremely familiar with the soundtrack, but I decided not to research the show further so I could experience the production for the first time with the rest of the audience. Not only had I never seen the show before, but I had never seen a professional Broadway production, so it should be said that I have no authority with with to write a review. Is that going to stop me? Nah.

From the get-go, Once proved to be an unusual production. As soon as I entered the theatre, I saw that there was no curtain. Beyond that, there were patrons on the stage. One of the many unique things about the show is that its set (An Irish pub) actually includes a working bar, so audience members are allowed and encouraged onstage for drinks both before the performance and during intermission. Even stranger, under the full stage, I noticed the orchestra pit to be empty.

I soon found out why. As it got closer to curtain, cast members began wandering out onstage amidst the theatergoers and stage managers (who *almost* fit into the average bar crowd in their jeans and flannels). Every performer had an instrument with them, and they sang and played little ditties while people were finishing their beers like musicians in a real pub. Since all the actors provided their own musical accompaniment, I think this also acted as an instrumental warm up for them.

Finally, the stage was empty except for 11 cast members. The main character (just referred to as “Guy” in the program) sang a song solo to signify the start of the show. The house lights were kept on during this first song, which kept me from being able to settle in and enjoy it, but after the first number ended and the lights finally dimmed, I enjoyed a great production.

In many ways, Once is a stereotypical contemporary show, with a small cast (12 adults and one child). and a small set. The design of the scenery was very interesting to me- it didn’t try to make the small show seem bigger by taking up the entire large stage. Instead, there was just a little semi-circle set that probably only took up the front half of the stage. Behind the “fishbowl” as I called it (because that’s what it seemed like to me from our high-up seats) was a basic brick backdrop.

Though the main set was that of a Dublin pub, as I mentioned before, this one set was used as many things- a music shop, a bank, the homes of main characters, but all without much physical change. Instead of having different large set pieces or backdrops to illustrate these different places, the lighting and furniture placement helped suggest the locations. For example, a scene in which two characters were talking to each other from different rooms was conveyed by each actor being lit in his own little box. This showed the audience their separation. To give the feeling of the bank, they arranged 4 large square tables in a diagonal and used them as desks to evoke cubicles.

I was most impressed with the way the show designers handled auditory parts of the show. To help the audience understand when a group of actors (who played Czech characters) were speaking Czech to each other, they projected the Czech subtitles to what they were saying (in English, so the audience could understand) onto the stage. In a scene where the female lead (listed just as “Girl” in the program) is listening to music in headphones, the instrumentalists “muffle” the volume of the song when she takes them off to talk to another character.

In this regard, every part of the set was well used. Every actor (besides the little girl in the show, because she didn’t play an instrument) remained onstage for the entire performance, even when their character didn’t appear in the scene. They sat or stood around the edges of the set, playing their instruments, or moving props when needed. Since there was no curtain, scene changes were choreographed and some of the most visually stimulating parts of the production due to dance or just general creative blocking (much like marching band formations, just saying) to move things and/or keep the audience entertained.

The scene changes weren’t the only parts of the show with choreography, however. I use the word “choreography” instead of “dance” because there really wasn’t that much dance in the musical. Most of the movement had a more pedestrian style to it, which matched the rest of the show’s modern aspects. However, the dance that there was always included the performers moving with their instruments, which resulted in a very Lindsey Sterling-esque vibe that I really enjoyed.

Since I don’t want this review to include any spoilers, when I talk about the actual meat of the show- the plot and dialogue and overall feel- I’ll be general. The way I can best describe the experience of seeing Once is that it was dynamic. The soft, folksy, and often melancholy score of the show was well juxtaposed with quirky characters that cracked jokes in chuckle-inducing dialogue. The production was not afraid of silence and not concerned about producing the volume of a 40 person ensemble or full orchestra. As one of the ushers rightly told me before the show, “[during the performance] the theatre is so quiet that you can hear a pin drop.” This silence of the captivated audience made the beautiful songs shine even brighter from the amazing multi-talented actors that were as good at lamenting a song of lost love as they were at cracking the joke, “I’m always serious- I’m Czech.”

Five stars!

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As my sister Kate and I were having our picture taken after the show, one of the actors, Matt DeAngelis, who plays an overly-caffeinated Czech death metal drummer, jumps in at the last second making this the best photobomb of my life.

 

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