National Tour Review: ONCE (Pantages in Hollywood)

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by Tony Frankel on July 19, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Ironically, the real-life love affair celebrated on screen about collaborators Glen Hasard, an Irish composer, and Markéta Irglová, a Czech songwriter, fizzled after John Carney’s 2007 film became a success (well, it’s not called Once for nothing). But the Tony-triumphant theatrical version, now at the Pantages in a soaring, enchanting, and lovely national tour production, opens its heart as it does its stage to audience members. Maybe love didn’t imitate art, but especially given Enda Walsh’s solid book, this adaptation is an example of the latter improving on life.


Bob Crowley’s scenic design represents a semi-circular Dublin pub bedecked with mirrors. The baker’s dozen of cast members triple up terrifically as actors, musicians, and movement artists (Steven Hoggett’s choreography, actually denoted as “movement,” merges seamlessly with John Tiffany’s inventive Story Theater direction).

Once depicts an unlikely partnership where music sets the measures. Here the generically named “Guy” (the vulnerably hot Stuart Ward), a self-denigrating dreamer who’s in lopsided and unrequited love with a colleen who escaped to New York, is about to give up on music as well as love; he’ll settle for repairing vacuum cleaners at his dad’s North Strand shop. It’s time, he sings, to “Leave.”


Suddenly and sweetly, a kind of earthly Muse intervenes in the person of a young Czech woman named “Girl” (a beguiling Dani de Waal). This Mendelssohn-loving pianist refuses to let him put his guitar, and his genius, away. Unstoppably honest, Girl dares him to fulfill his destiny—a fate that may or may not bring them passion as well as fame. In any case, their first song, the enthralling “Falling Slowly,” is a promissory note that must be redeemed: If he repairs her vacuum cleaner, she’ll fix his life.


But it’s complicated: Guy may have lost his heart to an expat lover, but Girl is married; with her husband back in Czechoslovakia, Girl lives in Dublin with her daughter and mother. Still, the urge to make songs creates a beautiful bond. The collaborators get a loan from an anti-capitalist banker who’s also a frustrated cello-playing rocker. Now known as “The Hoover Man,” Guy sets out to record a demo album, and discovers that Girl is just as much a reason to compose as the one who got away.


Yet the inspiration they provide doesn’t necessarily equal or trigger love: “Falling Slowly” takes on a sad new meaning. Impressively, this story is honest enough not to succumb to an audience’s wishful thinking. You can’t write yourself into love, no matter how persuasive the album you create. That’s just what happened to Hansard and Irglová.


With equal intensity, Ward and de Waal (whose characters suggest a kind of reverse Pygmalion where the woman perfects the man) generate erotic and artistic excitement. They’re buoyantly backed up by a crazy coterie of Irish eccentrics and Czech confidants, made up of one of the most generous, loving, and earthy ensembles on record. The 15 Grammy-winning songs by Hansard and Irglova that chronicle this cross-cultural courtship never sounded better. This is the only musical in years that I actually want to see again (it heads to Segerstrom next if Hollywood is too far); once for Once may not be enough.


Understand that intimacy is sacrificed in the larger theaters used for this tour. On Broadway (where the musical still resides), the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (formerly the Royale) has a much smaller seating capacity (1,078) than the Pantages (2,703). It was interesting to notice that patrons in the balcony began applauding for songs which were not over—a sure sign of disconnect with the production. You may want to try for seats closer to the stage. For even more intimacy, the stage pub is used before the show and at intermission as a working bar for theater patrons, who are treated to an up-close pre-show songfest.

photos by Joan Marcus

National Tour
reviewed at Hollywood Pantages
ends in L.A. on August 10, 2014

tour continues through 2017
for future cities and dates, visit Once on Tour


Paula Connolly July 29, 2014 at 12:50 pm

I have been wanting to see Once since I first heard about it. Our son and his wife were able to see it in New York and liked it. My husband and I saw it yesterday at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. I was so excited to see it and so disappointed: We could not hear at least half of the dialogue and none of “Gold” or the scene after “Gold.” No one around us could hear. The one person we could always hear was the actor playing The Banker. We had reasonably good tickets in row Z on the aisle; it’s not like we were up in the back of the Mezzanine. After our 2:00 show on 7/26/14, we went to our usual post show restaurant. We have gotten to know the waiter, a young man in his twenties. He asked us what we had seen, we told him, he asked how we liked it; we told him we couldn’t hear much of it. He told us he had seen it both in New York and at the Pantages and he had the same experience. He could hear everything in New York and very little at the Pantages.

We have season tickets to the Ahmanson (and have had for many years) and have never experienced a problem hearing a play. We frequent the Pantages several times a year and have never had this problem before in which we could only hear the music. Please fix this problem. It is not fair to the audience or the actors. Theater tickets are expensive and at a minimum we expect to hear the production.

Mary Anne Finnance August 11, 2014 at 1:44 pm

This review makes me feel so much better. My daughter and I experienced much the same on August 8, and I had never experienced this problem in a theater before. We complained at the intermission, and they put us downstairs, we were sitting in the second row mezzanine. It was still difficult for us to hear the dialogue. It was an intolerable experience, and I am worried about attending another performance at the Pantages. Does anyone know if they are offering any incentives for patrons who could not hear? We were bitterly disappointed, and a waste of a lot of money.

Judy Ramirez March 20, 2016 at 8:33 am

Same here! We saw Once yesterday, March 19th. We had good seats in row K. I have excellent hearing and the spoken words weren’t clear. Overall, the production was a huge disappointment and a waste of a lot of money and time. The production was done cheaply. Not one costume change that we could tell. The songs were slow and sounded much the same. We read reviews about how wonderful it was. We were ripped off. There were lots of empty seats. Now we know why. Someone got some honest reviews and decided not to waste the time or the money. We probably won’t go to the Pantages again.

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