Once stars (from left) David Bartlett, Morgan Parpan, and Dave Toole (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)
Most love stories go something like this: guy meets girl, guy and girl fall in love, guy loses girl, guy gets girl back. However, in the case of Once, a musical currently onstage at Theatre Raleigh under the direction of Tim Seib and based on a film of the same name by John Carney,a slightly more complex and different pattern is followed.
In this painfully honest love-story-of-sorts, there is a “Guy,” portrayed by David Toole, and there is also a “Girl,” portrayed by Morgan Parpan. These two not-otherwise-named characters meet by chance on the streets of Dublin. Immediately, there is a chemistry between the two, but what the chemistry consists of isn’t quite clear at first.
As “Girl” learns that “Guy” is stunted, still hung up on the death of his mother and the subsequent loss of an old flame, one whom he writes many songs for, she endeavors to help him. At first, the female character seems like she could either be a muse or a new love interest, but, as this powerful story unfolds, the audience learns she is “stuck” in her own way too and needs the help of “Guy” just as much as he needs her help.
Together, with a cast of colorful characters, each with big personalities, the two book a recording studio and form a makeshift band, serving as the catalyst for each of the two main characters, as well as the other characters, in their own ways, to become “unstuck.”
As these characters go on their journey, Seib’s careful direction lends an ethereal quality to the production. Cast members, who also serve as the show’s orchestra, move seamlessly in and out of the production as needed. The sparse set magically transforms itself with quick changes, and time seems to flow and yet stand still at the same time, nicely illustrating the world and current position of the main characters.
It’s not just the main characters who make their mark either. While Parpan gives a wonderfully gentle and thoroughly likeable portrayal of the female lead and Toole is charming and adds just the right touches of sadness and grief to his character, the rest of the cast holds their own as well. Standouts include Jack Boice as the hilarious Billy, a smitten and ridiculous coworker of “Girl’s.” His portrayal adds nice touches of humor to this somewhat dense and difficult-due-to-its-honesty show.
Andrew Nielson is also fun to watch as the banker-turned-musician who is tasked with the decision of whether or not to give “Guy” and “Girl” a loan to make their dreams come true.
Megan Ort’s slinky portrayal of Reza, a band member, and Tracy Thomas’ hilarious, over-the-top reendition of Baruska, “Girl’s” mother, counterbalanced by David Bartlett’s gentler portrayal of Da, “Guy’s” father, all serve to create and bring to life the real and breathing world these characters inhabit.
Theatre Raleigh‘s Sept. 5-9 and 12-16 presentation of Once stars (from left) David Bartlett, Morgan Parpan, Andrew Nielson, and Dave Toole (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)
Beautiful, lilting music and on-point and original choreography by Lisette Glodowsi, coupled with LeGrande Smith’s always-artful costume design and Christina Munich’s perfect lighting touches also help to make this show a truly immersive experience. Munich’s lighting, it must be said, is particularly noticeable here, taking the characters on this small stage from starry nights to rainy evenings with perfect believability.
When the story does come to its end, it is a somewhat bittersweet ending, but an honest one. In fact, “brutal honestly” is a perfect catch-all term to describe this show. It is what the characters are asked to contend with as well as what this fine production demands of the viewers themselves as they grapple with the concepts presented so beautifully here.
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