Once is one of those exquisitely beautiful musicals that is almost impossible to adequately describe in words. Not surprisingly, the musical has won eight Tony Awards – including the highly-coveted Best Musical Award – four Drama Desk Awards, an Academy Award, a Grammy Ward and an Olivier Award. With a book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Once the musical is based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney. What makes Once so special and unique is that all the music is performed by the cast on stage.
Darlinghurst Thearte Company’s production of Once delivered the Sydney premiere of this musical, to great critical acclaim. However, it was bold move for this not-for-profit, Sydney-based company to decide to make their Melbourne debut with a cherished musical that made it’s Australian premiere here just nine years ago, risking comparisons to the original Australian production with it’s fully working, on-stage bar.
Indeed, Darlinghurst Theatre Company, also known as Darlo, have delivered a very different production of Once with a much more simple staging, no doubt due to a much smaller budget. But any limitations in the staging are more than compensated for by the outstanding performances by this cast of quadruple threats. The magic of this musical comes from the cast themselves.
Toby Francis is extraordinary as Guy. Francis opens the show with rich, soaring vocals and a passionate and heart-felt performance. As the story progresses, the softening and invigoration of his character is obvious to the audience and Francis has captured the heart of Guy perfectly.
Stefanie Caccamo is stunning as Girl. Caccamo brings a joyful charm to her character, perfectly balancing the Czech “seriousness” with an infectious enthusiasm and energy that makes her chemistry with Guy all the more believable. Caccamo delivers an outstanding performance. The raucous opening night audience was in full party mode early through the show, but when Caccamo was singing “If You Want Me’ the audience was so entranced by her hauntingly beautiful rendition, you could’ve heard a pin drop.
The supporting cast are all strong performers and incredible musicians. Victoria Falconer is a confident and sexy Reza. Falconer is also the Musical Director and has done an outstanding job in bringing this beautiful music to life.
Anthony Craig is hilarious as the Bank Manager and his rendition of ‘Abandoned in Bandon’ had the audience in fits of laughter. Craig has impeccable comedic timing and he milked every single laugh.
Jay Laga’aia is a charming Da, Rupert Reid is a very likeable Billy, Jennifer Trijo is an endearing Baruska, Pavan Kumar Hari is a delightful Svec, Abe Mitchell is a passionate Andrej and Clay Crighton brings a gentleness to Eamon.
Hugh O’Connor’s set design perfectly creates the interior of an Irish pub. Aided by an exceptional lighting design by Peter Rubie, the stage is used well to create a sense of different scenes. Amy Campbell’s choreography is well suited to the cast.
I saw the Australian premiere season of Once at The Princess Theatre when it first opened in 2013, but the musical is perhaps best suited to the smaller and more intimate space of the Comedy Theatre and this production of Once feels like it belongs in the Comedy.
Everyone has their own favourite moment in the show, and my litmus test for Once is the reprise of ‘Falling Slowly’ that closes the show with the whole company. Darlo’s production did not disappoint (and I admit I had very high expectations!). Tears rolled down my cheeks as I struggled not to cry out loud, delivering the perfect and anticipated climax to this beautiful musical.
Under the direction of Richard Carroll, Darlo have delivered an outstanding production in their Melbourne debut. After the closure of Melbourne’s own not-for-profit company, The Production Company, perhaps Melbourne will see more productions from Darlinghurst Theatre Company? Welcome to the East End Theatre District Darlo.
Quite simply, Once will move you. Take tissues.
6 May – 4 June
Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000 T
Tickets available exclusively via ticketek.com.au