January 23, 2018
The vacuum cleaner isn’t the only thing that’s stuck.
In “Once,” the seductively charming musical that opened last week at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, the same could be said of the characters known only as Guy and Girl, two lost souls who aren’t functioning much better than her broken Hoover.
The Dublin street singer and the Czech immigrant meet as he’s about to abandon his guitar on the sidewalk and give up on his music. She is a lonely pianist, struggling to raise her young daughter with a husband who’s not around. Guy, perhaps a little too conveniently, works in his father’s vacuum repair shop where her promise to pay by playing for him leads to a musical collaboration, a demo tape with major potential and the stirrings of romance.
Andrea Goss, who understudied the role on Broadway, gives Girl a quiet, commanding presence, able to make things happen with but a soft-spoken word. Or a glare. Barry DeBois is less assured as Guy, perhaps because of difficulties with the Irish accent. But both are glorious when singing the pop-folk music of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (stars of the 2007 indie film that the musical is based on), most notably in the haunting “Falling Slowly,” which won the original song Oscar.
Interestingly, while the show is an ode to the power of music (“Ya can’t have a city without music,” says one character), there’s no orchestra. Under Trey Compton’s direction, the actors portraying all the other characters — Girl’s Ma, Guy’s Pa, a ragtag bunch of musicians — double as musicians, playing more than competent guitar, violin, mandolin and the like whenever they’re not speaking. Much of the action takes place in a finely rendered Irish pub (set by Nate Bertone) where the audience is invited to buy a drink and mingle before the play starts.
There’s no happy ending, at least in the traditional sense, to this bittersweet love story, winner of the 2012 best musical Tony. But when tiny Sophia Lily Tamburo, playing Girl’s daughter, fetches a violin and joins in on the show’s last few notes, the message of hope soars with the song.