By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
photo credit Joan Marcus
Guy (Stuart Ward) and Girl (Dani de Waal)share musical dreams in "Once."
You can talk all you want about the zesty production qualities of the nationally touring “Once” brought by Broadway in Tucson for a week's run at Centennial Hall on the University of Arizona campus.
What's even more important is the mystical quality of poignant yearning captured in the book of this Tony-winning musical by Enda Walsh. The struggling young couple battles so many conflicted desires, including their conflicted desire for each other, the music becomes a soothing balm whose abstract loveliness can mean whatever you need it to mean.
Of course all the actual songs we hear have been written by the real life musicians and actors Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. They starred in the independent movie written and directed by John Carney.
Interesting as the cinema lineage may seem, the stage adaptation found greater success building an emotional impact that is equaled in this traveling show. Which means once again the heart of the evening is in the story, not the notes.
The story is easy to sketch out. In a blue collar Dublin pub (stretching across the stage with super-real attention to detail) a frustrated singer/songwriter/guitarist known as Guy (Stuart Ward) happens upon a singer/pianist known as Girl (Dani de Waal) who complains about her broken vacuum cleaner.
Well, wouldn't you know it, Guy's day job is repairing vacuum cleaners in his father's shop. Quicker than you can say “Take it from the top,” Girl's vacuum is running right and the two are singing along on the Academy Award winning “Falling Slowly.”
But soon enough cultures begin to clash when Guy the Irishman wants to become better friends with Girl, who lives with her immigrant family from the Czech Republic.
Billy the bar's owner (Evan Harrington) has also taken a liking to Girl, so that requires some direct man-to-man negotiating, too.
By the time all this is set up, we have been through half the first act filled with the most tender, heartfelt contemporary Irish music (definitely not traditional Irish folk songs) performed with a precision and clarity that builds its power to lift one from the ordinariness of that seat in Centennial Hall.
But “Once” is not your sweeping magic carpet ride of soaring triumph, oh no, pulling you up to a standing ovation of victorious smiles as you walk from the theater beaming that justice has been served.
“Once” is much better, a toasty nostalgic reflection on that time before turning age twenty, when virtually every thing you want is possible because you have the time and the freedom and the energy to make it happen.
As well as a time when you discover other people want the same thing you do, and some of those people are smarter, richer, better connected, more talented, and definitely holding the upper hand.
Did that stop you from dreaming? Did you downgrade those dreams? Pull in those hopes? Get real?
All those moments of wonder and compromise are in “Once,” framed like tuneful reminders of the mileposts and door stops in your own family album. It's the recognition of this universality that sends the audience to its feet at the end.
“Once” runs through Sunday, April 5, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, April 1 and 2; 8 p.m. Friday, April 3; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 4; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25-$80 at the Centennial Hall Box Office. For details and online reservations, broadwayintucson.com