One of the best things about living in Melbourne is that sooner or later every show comes to town. I’ve seen countless bands play live, and last year I started prioritising musicals, something I’ve always loved. Thanks to my boyfriend, Wicked was the first one I saw. Once wasn’t enough, so I went again with my mum, who obviously had fallen in love with it too. Then just as Les Miserábles was about to close, I had the privilege of attending one of their performances, and saw one of my all-time favourite stories come to life on stage. Yet, even after all of this amazingness, last week I attended what I now know will always be my favourite musical: Once.
Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s original music from the movie has had a very special place in my heart ever since I saw it for the first time, shortly after it came out, when I was fifteen. I still remember the night I went to see it at the movies with my mum and a friend of hers, back in Brazil. We caught a late session and I can still recall walking across the empty parking lot with blurry eyes from feeling so much after the movie ended. Little did I know that those songs would become the epitome of the kind of music I would come to love the most. The raw folk soundtrack has been my absolute favourite ever since. The film’s stars dated for a little while in real life, and from that relationship two more masterpieces were released, The Swell Season albums. If you haven’t listened to them yet, you’re wasting your life.
I was devastated when Glen Hansard came to Melbourne last year because I only found out after the show was already sold out. The man is a genius and I would have loved to see him perform, but for some reason I wasn’t as excited about seeing Once The Musical, based on his original work. I ended up only going on their very last week in Melbourne, and that turned out to be a good thing, because the show had me so mesmerised I would have probably gone another ten times if I had the chance.
It is very true to the original story, except it’s got a lot more humour to it. I admit it: at the beginning I thought they were trying too hard to make it funny, when anyone who’s seen the movie knows that the story’s strength is in its subtlety. But as the night went on. I came to really appreciate what they’ve done. There is just so much life oozing from the stage – be it in the form of laughter, dancing or deep emotion – that there’s nothing you can do but being immerse yourself in it. It also helps that, unlike other musicals, there is no orchestra and all the music is played live on stage by the many characters. It’s like a band concert and a musical all rolled into one. Unbelievable.
If the songs were already extremely powerful recorded, there’s no words to explain how hard they hit you in person. And it starts even before the performance; if you get there early enough, you’re allowed to go up on the stage, which is set up like a traditional Irish pub. Except for the two main characters, all of the ensemble is up there doing sound check, playing some traditional songs that get you moving and smiling, while you can buy real drinks from the stage bar, which is fully functional. Standing on the stage enjoying the music I could only think about how that, right there, was already worth the ticket price.
The Melbourne season ended last Sunday, unfortunately, but if you ever have a chance to go see the show somewhere, don’t think about it; just go. There is no way you’ll regret it. I really wish I could have seen a performance by the original Broadway cast because it featured Cristin Milioti in the role of Girl. I’ve fallen in love with her after following her (sadly) short-lived TV series “A to Z”, and once I imagined her playing her Once character on the stage in front of me, the humour finally felt right. Her legacy and that of everyone who’s worked on the show still shines through years later. If I could be anything I wanted in life, I have always said I would be a musical theatre actress. Now that I’ve seen the show, I’ve amended my wish: if I could be anything in life I would be anyone – anyone at all – in the cast of Once for a season.
Check out a little about the show, snippets of the rehearsals and performances of the Australian production in the videos below.