Hi, friends. It’s me again, at my nerdiest theater self. Feeling super emotional about Once today because I saw it twice in the past seven days and when I tell you it was an absolute personal attack, I mean, it hit me hard enough to get me to open up this blog post and write about it.
In a super small, cozy, loving, and warm theatre-in-the-round at my local performing arts center, my family and I had the chance to see the musical and everyone came out in love with it. Once is the musical nobody ever talks about despite the fact it has eight Tony awards under its name including Best Musical – because it certainly does not get the attention and love that it deserves. So, as always, here I am.
“To live, you have to love.”
Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová in Once (2007) Directed & Written by John Carney
Based on the 2007 film by John Carney, Once is a story based on the unlikely happenings and connections between two music lovers that just happen to cross paths. Let me just say, I love movies. Moviemakers are some of the greatest storytellers out there, but I will continue to thank the musical theatre gods every day that they decided to turn this movie into a musical because with music as powerful and moving as the ones made for this movie, there is a magic that it creates with a live audience.
With music & lyrics by the unparalleled Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová – who are singer-songwriters themselves, who, along with John Carney, have taken their journeys with music and brought them to both stage and screen, who have written some of the prettiest poems and soulful Irish inspired melodies I have ever heard – Once, like any great musical – is a lesson in life. Here are the lyrics that prove exactly how.
and free yourself at the same time
– Leave –
Opening the musical with a guy begging his girl to leave, it’s a profound thing. The way Steve Kazee performs it on the record comes out of desperation, a cry for help almost. The way he wants her to leave him so that she’d be free also simultaneously represents a freedom for himself – free of her and free of the past they shared and the past version of himself. “Leave and free yourself at the same time.” What a loaded line. It makes me want to cry.
And as these shadows fall on me now,
I will somehow
– Say It To Me Now –
When I saw this live for the first time, the actor, Tom Frank, performed this song with such soul that I almost cried in my seat. The character he plays might come off as this cold, broken-down, shattered by life kind of guy, but his real self – his honesty and his vulnerability – shines through in the music that he sings. I was sat in my chair and all I kept thinking was, “This is my music. This is a musical made for me.” I almost walked out of the theatre because of how good he was.
Here’s Glen Hansard doing the song. Watch him be a legend and bust a string.
Tear your curtains down,
for sunlight is like gold
and you better be you
Do what you can do
when you’re walking on moon beams
and staring out to sea
– Gold –
You should know by now that if you read through my posts and only read and don’t listen to the music while you read the quoted lyrics, I want to punch you. It takes away the essence, but I get it. If you don’t, I forgive you, but if you do it for “Gold,” right here, I won’t forgive you. This is my favorite song from the whole show. “Tear your curtains down for sunlight is like gold.” Are you kidding me? Just press play on the video and thank me later.
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself.
It’s time that you’ve won.
Take this sinking boat and point it home.
We’ve still got time.
Raise your hopeful voice. You have a choice.
You’ve made it now
– Falling Slowly –
Movie musicals can be extremely hard to pull off. It’s not always in the film’s favor that a movie-theater audience would appreciate a musical the way that a Broadway audience would. A lot of them are hit or miss. A lot of musicals turn into movies. Not Once.
Thanks to Carney, Hansard, and Irglová Once was done right both on screen and on stage. In 2008, the film and its writers won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Melodically it quite literally feels like falling slowly, and that is brilliance in storytelling. Lyrically, the second you hear the words, you’ll know that it’s the hope you’ve been in search of for a long time now.
“Those who live in fear die miserably in their graves.”
I felt so lucky with the production of this musical that I had the opportunity to see because it was filled with a cast that should have all had their place on Broadway. They were that talented and that good.
Once The Musical presented by 3-D Theatricals
“Here’s a song I wrote.”
Starring Tom Frank, the musical takes audiences through the deeply personal journey of a man who’s about to give up on the one thing he’s dedicated his life to – Music. Every single time he opened his mouth to sing, my heart would race. The second he stopped, the room erupted in applause. I watched him perform a total of close to six hours, and he reminded me how powerful one artist with a guitar can be.
“Those who live in fear die miserably in their graves.”
From her first entrance to the stage, Aurora Florence exuded a confidence and poise unmatched by any of her other co-stars. Her ability to convey emotion through movement and expression brings life to the darker, saddened moments of the show. She played the piano as if Mozart’s spirit himself moves through her, and was the key to the whole show, taking the duet “Falling Slowly” and transforming it into the sound you would stop and turn your head towards if you saw both musicians playing it out on the street.
With live music itself weaving through transitions and a stellar ensemble who moves their own set, it quickly became evident to me that putting on a production of Once takes a village – and the village of this production was one full of talent, grace, composure, and heart. From fiddle players to multiple acoustic guitars exactly in time to percussion that’s ironically and perfectly timeless, this cast of Once was the epitome of theater. They make you understand exactly how the show won its Tony for Best Musical. Harmonies fill the room, and you’ll feel it around you too – the magic in the very presence of their music.
“Your music has heart and soul – You must sing!”
To keep a musician as talented as Guy from giving up on his music, Girl shouts at him, “Your music has heart and soul – you must sing!” He rejects her. He lays his guitar down on the floor. He refuses to play his music. She fights back. She picks up his sheet music. She says she wants to listen. By the end of the night, it felt like the entire cast was just shouting at me – “Free yourself. / You will somehow. / Tear your curtains down. / You better be you. / Raise your hopeful voice. / You must sing!”
Okay. I got it. Thank you.
Giving up the art won’t be an option.
I know this musical isn’t new. I just wanted to talk about it because nobody does anymore. I want it to still live, so I figured why not put it out on the internet where everything is forever.
I know it’s sometimes hard if you’re not already a fan of musicals to resonate with theatre recordings. It’s difficult when you can’t fill in the blanks of what happens between dialogue and song. I know that, so that’s why I encourage you to see live theatre when you get the chance. Some of the world’s greatest lyrical works have lived on Broadway and still live in small town theaters. I will never stop saying that. Support the art, and if you are anyone who can appreciate storytelling, you will find hope and support and inspiration in so much of them, I promise you.
Listen to the Original Broadway Cast of Once here if you feel like crying today.
For more on the creation of Once, check out this article from Consequence of Sound below.
How an Irish indie film with next to no budget became a cultural phenomenon
Photo: AURORA FLORENCE and TOM FRANK in once Produced by 3-D Theatricals Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts October 11-27, 2019 via 3D – Theatricals. Photo by 3-D Theatricals