No modern musical captures the essence of tender love quite like Once, the Academy Award-winning sleeper hit film of 2007 that was adapted for the stage in 2012, sweeping that year’s Tony Awards.
It isn’t only the lightning-in-a-bottle romance at the core of Once that has spellbound audiences for over a decade, but also the healing and connective powers of music, both of which are omnipresent in SpeakEasy Stage’s unimaginably beautiful production, which will run through March 30.
Guy (Nile Scott Hawver) is a down-and-out busker-turned-vacuum cleaner repairman who is left heartbroken and with a trunkful of love songs when his girlfriend leaves Dublin for New York to pursue her music career. Girl (Mackenzie Lesser-Roy) is a Czech woman whose husband left her alone to raise their daughter. She’s drawn to Guy after hearing him sing on the street and—as fate would have it—she happens to have a vacuum in need of repair.
She’s also a musician—a pianist with the voice of an angel—and she sees great promise in the songs that he’s written. With her help, and the help of the entire community, they set out to make an album of Guy’s songs. Girl is convinced that the songs are going to launch his career and it doesn’t take long before the entire town (and one stubborn bank manager) is on board.
In just two days, Girl brings the heartbroken, depressed Guy back to life; and in just five days, they are totally in love. The trouble is, sometimes love is easier said than done. And there’s the matter of the exes: his in New York and hers ripe for reconciliation.
Paul Melone’s production isn’t only gorgeously staged, but it is infused with infectious heart and an ache that is impossible to shake. The magnificent ensemble doubles as the orchestra—Steven Ladd Jones deserves a world of praise for his musical direction—and let me be the first to say that Kathy St. George plays a mean tambourine. SpeakEasy’s Once is that rare beauty where all the elements coalesce into one freakily gorgeous whole (Karen Perlow’s lighting is a particular delight).
The radiant Mackenzie Lesser-Roy brings a disarming gentility to Girl that in many ways makes her the heart of this production. As Guy, Nile Scott Hawver falls short vocally but more than makes up for it with his heart-stopping vulnerability. Together, they left me breathless.
Easy to love and hard to forget, SpeakEasy’s Once is the embodiment of everything that we love about the theater and everything we love about love. Just bring tissues, okay?
ONCE. THROUGH 3.30 AT SPEAKEASY STAGE, 527 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. SPEAKEASYSTAGE.COM
Theater critic for TheaterMania & WBUR’s TheArtery | Theater Editor for DigBoston | film and music critic for EDGE Media | Boston Theater Critics Association.