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It’s Not You, ONCE. It’s me.

Once duo Its Not You, ONCE.  Its me.

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal from the “Once” touring company. They play Irish and Czech musicians who make music together. Photo – Joan Marcus

Once, now on stage at Segerstrom Center for the Arts is a sweet and mellow musical that reminds me of a special past relationship that could’ve been magical, but was never meant to be. I wanted to fall in love, for my heart to swoon and fall head over heels with Once, but I just didn’t fall – slowly or otherwise.

Once did win the hearts of Broadway in 2012, winning eight Tony Awards after winning the 2007 Oscar for Best Original Song. Maybe it’s not you, Once. It’s me.

The quiet melancholy rhythm of Falling Slowly, Once’s cornerstone song, which won the hearts of Broadway, seeps into most of the 16 songs, leaving me immersed in a bland world of romantical woe. Each song is fine, but together in a full length musical is just too much heart wrenching for one evening. And don’t get me started about the modern dance sequences with artsy hand movements to offset the plaintive chords of soulful strings. Nope.

What I did love about this story is the emphasis on the complex beauty of a relationship, focusing on encouragement, listening, understanding and truly seeing what makes a person flourish, without delving into the physical natures of romance. The storyline was soft and sad. Quiet and poignant. Beautifully performed by the entire cast. They were all exceptional.
Many may disagree, but Once deserves to be experienced in a smaller venue, as the intimacy of Once is lost in a large hall. Sitting in row P allowed me to see the wide view silhouette of the show’s big picture, but heartfelt expressions are lost for everyone who sits past the 7th row. There’s a reason why it takes place in a pub. It’s an intimate setting perfect for a Dublin romance. I’d love to see it in a smaller black box theater.

The story tracks the short, bittersweet relationship between two Dublin musicians. A struggling singer-songwriter, the dejected Guy (impressively portrayed by Alex Nee) is about to pack in his guitar when he meets Girl (Dani de Waal with a perky performance and hard to understand accent), a Czech immigrant who happens to play the piano. I could make out Waal’s dialogue fine, but I heard several comments about her being hard to understand.

Loved the Irish pub set and lighting with dark wood, etched glass doors and shimmering mirrors. It actually functions more or less as a real pub, selling drinks starting about a half hour before each performance while the ensemble jams center stage. All the cast members play their own instruments, melding actors and orchestra onstage for a truly innovative performance.

Once cast Its Not You, ONCE.  Its me.

Some of the cast members from “Once” at Segerstrom Hall. Photo – Joan Marcus

Falling Slowly is the cornerstone piece of the musical has long been one of my favorite songs, always causing me to pause what I’m doing and just let the song wash over me. This performance holds true to the plaintive and soul wrenching beauty. It’s lovely and I want to love the whole show. Maybe it’s just not love at first sight.

ONCE, winner of eight Tony Awards including Best Musical and winner of the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, is now performing at Segerstrom Hall through August 31st.

Segerstrom Hall is located at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, California. For more information, please visit their website at SCFTA.org or call (714) 556-2787.

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