Tyler Akin & Kylie McGuffey in Once. Photo: TimeSlip
Music by Glen Hansard & Markéta Irlogvá
Book by Enda Walsh
Based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney
Directed by Remy Sisk
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In the film that is the source material for this musical, there is a moment early on in which the two main characters tentatively find their way into the song “Falling Slowly”. At a specific moment when their voices blended in harmony, a shiver went up my spine, a magical moment that felt entirely genuine and uniquely cinematic.
Yet in the stage version being given its Louisville premiere by TimeSlip Theatre, the moment is recreated with enough of that feeling that I felt the same shiver. The movie feels as if we are eavesdropping on characters very close to the actors playing them, but on stage, the impact is the skill and craft of theatricality, with two actors working to create that moment and succeeding beautifully.
Both tell the story of an Irish “Guy” (Tyler Akin) busking on the streets of Dublin who meets a Czechozlavkian “Girl” (Kylie McGuffey) who sells flowers on the streets. She loves his music and encourages him to make a demo to take to record companies in London in the movie/New York on the stage – not sure why. Romantic feelings develop but the Girl is married with a daughter in Dublin and a husband elsewhere, while Guy’s songs are all about the ex-girlfriend who broke his heart.
That unrequited tension is crucial to the huge appeal of this story in each iteration; the resolve to not give in to cliche and chart a unique relationship that is as sweet and tender, as filled with compassion and longing, as anything you have ever encountered. It stays with you for a long time.
For the stage, Enda Walsh’s book makes changes that amplify that tension even more than the movie and creates one new character, Billy (Tommy Cook), who owns the music shop and plays in the band that forms for the recording. It is here that a broader humor representative of the stage is most overtly introduced, and Girl is given a more emphatic personality for the same reasons. Once remains one of the gentlest, most easily relatable musicals ever created, a fair recreation of the movie’s tone and sensibility.
Another key element is that the “orchestra” for the show is the cast, working as an ensemble but moving in and out of characters and even dancing in the small space at no risk to any audience members. Whatever the physical limitations, the direction by Remy Sisk and Assistant Director Myranda Thomas utilzises every inch of the new home of this company.
And they have shaped effective performances from a talented ensemble and two contrasting charcaterizations from the leads. Tyler Akin is a glum and low-key Guy, so laid back and understated, while Kylie McGuffey is a charismatic life force. Despite her repeated claim that “I’m always serious. I’m Czech!”, McGuffey is a luminous presence with crack comic timing. The criticism of Once on stage has touched upon the tendency to be twee and this slight shift in the dynamic in the two leads helps overcome that quality a bit. Vocally Akin could use a bit more projection for his slightly anquished baritone, but McGuffey has the bright, rich delivery of a musical theatre pro.
Tommy Cook’s Billy is a gruff, mercurial misanthrope, and cuts a profile that seems exactly Irish tough with more than a slice of blarney, and Natalie Minton’s Bank Manager is a hoot among the ensemble members who take on characters.
The musicians play loose and conversationally, emphasizing that the songs are not like a typical Broadway musical score. This a gentle show and the music is sensitive, human, and never bombastic, and dancers Leah Kotarski, Katie Wilis, and Mimi Housewright move within the tight space with skill and immediacy befitting that aesthetic.
The premiere of Once is also TimeSlip’s inaugural production in their new, permanent home on Story Avenue in the Butchertown neighborhood. The inside seems polished, and despite some street noise filtering in from Story Avenue (Friday night it seemed a popular spot for loud motorcycles) the storefront performance space is well-suited for a show like this, which is small and often quiet. The action in Once is not world shattering; there is no big showstopping number where two people overcome obstacles to be in love. It is never dull but it also never overwhelms us, instead taking us into its embrace to explore pain, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Because the seating is limited the show has sold out quickly and TimeSlip has added a 3rd weekend of performances.
Featuring Tyler Akin, Addison Avery, Adam Byrd, Tommy Cook, Ashley Drury, Izzy, & Kayla Holzer, Mimi Housewright, Leah Kotarski, Julie Riehm McGuffey, Kylie McGuffey, Natalie Minton, Maddie Offenberger, Peighton Radlein, Eddie Smith, Kate Tyree, & Katie Willis
June 24, 25, 30, July 1, 2, 6. 7. & 8 @ 8:00 pm
June 26 & 3 @ 2:30 pm
Time Slip Theater
1501 Story Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.