This past week I happened upon two tickets to see the Tony-Award winning show Once at the Wharton Center. The last time I went to a theater to see a live show was with my dad to see “Peter Pan” and I was about eight years old. Needless to say, it had been awhile.
I didn’t know much about Once before I arrived. What I knew was that it was a romance story, supposedly with a few nontraditional twists and what was reportedly an incredible soundtrack. What I didn’t know was how much of an emotional, heartbreaking performance it would turn out to be.
Upon arriving at the theater, I was surprised to see audience members up on stage with the cast and crew (even if I don’t attend the theater often I at least know that’s not exactly a norm.) About 15 minutes before the show started, the cast came together and started singing Irish folk songs, warming up and clearly enjoying themselves. They let the audience members stay on stage as part of the experience and even took requests, making jokes and engaging onlookers the entire time.
I sat in my seat, waiting for the curtain call to signify the start of the show. But none came. Instead, audience members slowly made their way back to their seats as the lights dimmed and suddenly, the show began.
During the show, I laughed, cringed and had tears in my eyes as the story of a simple guy and girl was told with beautiful music. With witty dialogue, physical humor and just the right amount of profanity, Once grabbed me by the hand and took me on a wonderful journey I won’t soon forget.
The story involves an Irish street performer (or “busker”) who’s ready to give up on his music. Just when he’s ready to quit for good, he meets a girl who becomes instantly drawn to his songs, insisting that he stick with his dream. She convinces him that his true destiny lies within his music and (with a little determination and a lot of stubbornness), persuades him to continue with his dream.
Over the next seven days, the two become fast friends and begin to realize that their feelings for each other go beyond the music they’re creating. But things aren’t so simple; with a past flame holding him back and a current one keeping her occupied, their love story is one that is genuine yet complicated.
Throughout the show, the entire cast is present on stage, supporting the story with the wonderful sounds of violin, guitar, accordion and more. The music is hauntingly beautiful, gentle enough to remind you that it is indeed a love story, yet sad enough to warn you that the ending will most likely not be a happy one. Even though you can sense things aren’t going to end the way you want them to, you can’t help but cheer for the unlikely couple until the very end.
This morning as I was driving to work at M3 I was listening to an interview on 97.5 FM with Donna Garner, who plays Baruška, the mother of “Girl” (the female lead). She was discussing the show and said something that I found to be incredibly accurate:
“This is a show that will make you laugh your head off and then, in the same moment, make you cry your eyes out.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Once will be at the Wharton Center through this Sunday, October 19. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.whartoncenter.com.