Review: 'Once' Tour at Waterbury's Palace Theater

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • Connecticut Critics Circle/OnStage Connecticut Critic

"I'm always serious. I'm Czech." - Girl in 'Once'

Waterbury, CT - The NETworks Presentations LLC touring company of ‘Once’ stopped at the palatial Palace Theater for three performances this weekend as a part of their Webster Broadway Series. ‘Once’ features a book by Enda Walsh with music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and of course is based upon the motion picture of the same name written and directed by John Carney. The musical is the winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards® including best musical.

I liked the film and especially the song “Falling Slowly,” so I could understand all those Tony wins as I watched what is definitely a unique and original Broadway experience. It is a tale of a street musician in Dublin who is about to give up on his dreams when a young Czech woman takes a sudden interest in the love songs he has written. The chemistry between them grows while his music soars to new heights, but this unlikely connection turns out to be much more complicated than a common romance. It is about not living in fear, going for your dreams and the power of music that connects all of us. The best part of the production is the impressive ensemble of actor/musicians who all play their own instruments onstage to the music that is cleverly woven into this complex love story.

The performance at the Palace opened with the bar onstage being open to serve ticket holders on the set of an old Irish pub. Bright house lights made it easy to preview the program before the show. Some of the actor/musicians came out during this preshow to perform some tunes before the crowd was ushered off the stage by the headset-wearing crew. Then without house announcements, the show began.

The unnamed Guy was played by the very talented Sam Cieri, who convincingly banged on his battered guitar as he alternated between shouting and quietly singing the lyrics to the street musician’s songs. He brought a lot of heart and stage presence to the role. Mackenzie Lesser-Roy gave a shining performance in the role of Girl. The Boston Conservatory grad entered through an aisle and truly became the serious young woman from Czechoslovakia who plays the piano.

The supporting cast of musicians who sat on the sides of the stage and stepped up to play the other roles included Jenn Chandler as a bank manager who skillfully played both guitar and cello, and Nyssa Duchow as (briefly) the ex-girlfriend on violin and percussion. Liam Fennecken as Svec covered guitar, mandolin, banjo, drum set, and percussion. Isaac Haas played Girl’s flatmate Andrej and played electric bass, ukulele, guitar and percussion. John Hays was Billy and played guitar, percussion, and ukulele.

Angel Lin was the emcee and played guitar. Alison Rose Munn was lovely as Girl’s mother Baruska and played both accordion and concertina. John Pierson was the Da of Guy and played mandolin, while Lauren J. Thompson was Reza while also playing violin. Dan Tracy played Eamon and expertly played piano, guitar, percussion, melodica, and harmonica. Young Lily Caputo appeared as Ivanka.

I loved the recording session of  “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and the visual ballet for “Gold” that was the first act closer. The performances of “Falling Slowly” did not disappoint.  Music captain was Barry DeBois and kudos to movement captain Adam Huel Potter. The scenic and costume design by Bob Crowley was spot on and the magnificent lighting design by Natasha Katz clearly deserved her Tony Award. There was video captioning of the Czech lines that the actors spoke in English, except for one important line that was said in Czech and translated into English for the audience.

Coming next season to Waterbury’s Palace Theater will be ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ for a two-week CT exclusive engagement, ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,’ ‘Jersey Boys,’ ‘Rent,’ and “Motown the Musical.’

Nancy Sasso Janis is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. She continues to contribute theatre news to local sites. Follow her new Facebook page Nancy Sasso Janis: Theatre Reviewer and on Twitter @nancysjanis417

Photos by Joan Marcus