I was lucky to see the original production on Broadway, with Tony-winner Steve Kazee and (the Mother on "HIMYM") Cristin Milioti. Within a few minutes, I felt with my entire being that this was a magical experience. I'm so relieved that the first national tour, which recently played Philadelphia's Academy of Music, is equally enthralling. If you have the chance to catch the tour, go see it. Even though the space is huge, the perfectly directed show still achieves the required level of intimacy. And the wonderful tour cast fully sells every aspect of the difficult show.
Girl, our Czech heroine who is even more honest and open than the show, hears Guy's song and knows that he has something special. She pushes him to keep playing even though his broken heart wants him to quit, and her faith in him brings new depth to his music. It's one of the most romantic relationships ever, with a couple that doesn't end up together or ever even kiss. It's all about the music. And it's amazing.
The Girl is a really complex role. She has to be so optimistic that she verges on chipper, and so honest and open that it veers into cartoony. The actress playing her has to keep her from getting too cartoony while also showing her maturity and intelligence. Cristin Milioti did this perfectly, somehow. The Girl on tour does a respectable job. Some of her early lines (the funniest ones) in Act I got a little hammy, but in the more serious Act II scenes, she was great. Although it's still a bit strange to hear the unnamed Guy sing a lot of the songs, instead of the wondrous Glen Hansard, the tour's Guy was very likable and demonstrated emotion well. However, a lot of his lyrics were swallowed. Surprisingly, one of my favorite characters on tour was Andrej, one of Girl's roommates, whom I don't even remember from Broadway. He has few lines and a tiny substory of about 30 seconds, but it was heartbreaking on tour. It shows what a good actor can do with very little.
My absolute favorite part of the stage show is funnily enough my least favorite part of the movie. The song "Gold", by the Irish band Interference is sung in the movie during a 'Sing for your supper' kind of dinner party. In the show, Guy sings it at an open mic night at the bar, to a very cynical crowd (when he says "This is a song...that I wrote" everyone groans; it's pretty great). But soon, every single person at the bar picks up an instrument and joins in, completely moved by his music and almost without realizing it. Here's the cast performing it at the Tony Awards. The stomp is my favorite part of the entire show, seriously. (They changed the intro for the Tonys, so you'll have to see the show for the hilarious lines.)
Overall, "Once" is really a magical show. There are a few new songs that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova wrote for the show, like the wonderfully sad but soothing "Sleeping", but they replace some favorites like "Lies", "All The Way Down", and "Once". But the choices are smart, and the book, though different from the movie, has all the necessary charm and intelligence to successfully translate this small but powerful story to the stage. I'm so happy to have been wrong about this show.