Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The cast's pre-show music shifts seamlessly into the first scene, when a singer-songwriter called Guy (Stuart Ward) performs a lacerating song of lost love in the pub as a farewell to performing. The timely arrival of Girl (Dani de Waal), a Czech immigrant who also loves musicher taste is more for classical pianochanges his plans and leads them both in unexpected directions.
Once began as a 2006 Irish movie in which the songwriters, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová played Guy and Girl; the song "Falling Slowly," which also appears in the musical, won the Oscar for Best Song. Book writer Enda Walsh widens the focus beyond the central couple to include the people in their circle, each of whom has a story: the burly music store owner (Evan Harrington), who lets Girl play a piano in his showroom after hours; Girl's boisterous Czech friends and family in Dublin, including her pragmatic, accordion-playing mother (Tina Stafford); Guy's father (Scott Waara), who runs a vacuum cleaner repair shop; even the bank manager (Benjamin Magnuson) whom Girl approaches for a loan so she and Guy can rent a recording studio.
Director John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett, credited with "movement," elevate the dramatic action above the commonplace by heightening it. The musical has no pit orchestra; almost all the cast members play their own instruments, accompanying themselves and each other, and performers not in a scene sit around the edges of the action and move furniture as needed. Everyone works together to create a reality in which the music propels each scene into the next and the performers perform precision choreography while playing their instruments. The moment when the cast sings in a cappella harmony is ethereal.