Arts Club Theatre Once

I do confess to having watched John Carney’s Sing Street at least a dozen times (thank you, Netflix), thus the bar was set high for me with a theater adaptation of Carney’s Once.

I also realize that the show has garnered eight Tony Awards plus an Academy Award-winning tune (Falling Slowly). According to Director Bill Millerd, “Once is not only an intimate and personal show, but also one that explores the cultural relationship between the Czech immigrants and the Dublin locals.”

Arts Club Theatre Once

The Arts Club Theatre’s Granville Island stage provides a festive vibe with a pre-show bar set up on stage and a 10-piece band performing impromptu Celtic songs — a great start.

Once the lights dim and the show begins however, you’ll find there’s barely a storyline in this two-hour (including intermission) show.

See, here’s the thing: one of the two leads, the Girl, has some of the dummest lines in the name of humour imaginable and right from the start, I was hopeful that these pokes at Guy, a lonely Irish busker struggling for a break in life, might dissipate.

To my relief, those lines are fewer into the second half, but by then, at least there’s a rapport built up between the two.

Arts Club Theatre Once

Both are talented musicians in their own right, but it’s the Girl (of Czech origin) that’s determined to get Guy’s career off to a start in New York City.

The two convince an Irish banker to loan them the money to cut a demo CD of Guy’s songs (through music of course; not at all realistic, but hey, this is a musical with themes of pursuing your dreams).

One of our favourite characters is Billy (Chris Cochrane) who gets all the best lines, in contrast to the Girl (well played by Gili Roskies, who I imagine also wished for more intelligent humour to match Billy’s).

Guy’s Adrian Glynn McMorran has a beautiful voice and shows his vulnerability as he opens up to Girl, occasionally pining for his ex-girlfriend who’s moved from Dublin to the Big Apple.

Gili Roskies, Adrian Glynn McMorran
[Gili Roskies, Adrian Glynn McMorran]

Alison Jenkins shows great flexibility, playing Girl’s mother, Barushka, also providing wonderful performances on the accordion.

Set and Lighting Designer Ted Roberts created a clever two-level set to tie in several scenes that cycle from a pub to a music shop to an appliance repair store. A small video screen above also changes up with logos to coordinate with the appropriate place.

A string of colourful lights adds whimsy to the set while a couple of acoustic guitars off to the side bring the musical nature of this show front and center.

Added to this is seating off to both sides of the stage where various cast members sit in between Girl and Guy’s scenes; those talented musicians come to life and bring their A-game to the production in between scenes, too.

Gili Roskies, Adrian Glynn McMorran

Roberts looked to personal Celtic/Irish influences in creating the set, from the music of Van Morrison to the Irish Rovers at Expo ’86.

Costume Designer Kirsten McGhie looked to British street fashion for inspiration, curating a variety of threads that mesh well and appear spot-on in a Dublin pub.

If you can get past a thin, nearly non-existent storyline, you’ll be rewarded with some beautiful music and a fantastic cast who look like they’re having the time of their lives on stage.

Directed by Bill Millerd (after 46 years, he’s off into the sunset following this production), Once continues at Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage through July 29.

Photos by Emily Cooper.

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