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California Center for the Arts Presents a Powerful Performance of Once

By   /  April 25, 2022  /  No Comments


TR Robertson –Opening night for the Tony Award winning musical Once, at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido, was filled with anticipation for the return of live musicals to the Center Theater as the attendees gathered inside the lobby, sipping champagne and waiting for the doors to open. They would not be disappointed as an incredibly talented group of actors/musicians would give a memorable performance of this acclaimed musical.

The musical is taken from the 2007 award winning film, “Once”, written and directed by John Carney. The film’s song, “Falling Slowly”, won the Academy Award for Best Song. Enda Walsh would adapt the film into a book for the musical in 2011 with music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The musical premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2011 and on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in 2012. Once would receive 12 Tony Award nominations in 2012, winning eight including Best Musical and Best Scenic Design. It would also win a number of Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Lyrics and in 2013 a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album.

  Photos by Karli Cadel and Ken Jacques

Enda Walsh has said his plays are about “some sort of love and need for calm and peace.” Once is certainly this, and so much more. Audience members are treated to a musical performance, for about 30 minutes, prior to the actual opening of the musical, with a performance on stage by a majority of the actors/musicians in the show. Energetic Irish bar songs and Czech folk songs are performed with a chance for each of the musicians to sing and display their tremendous musical talent. In several performances I have seen of Once at other theatres, audience members were even allowed on stage to order drinks from the bar set and some audience members have been allowed to sit stage left or right during the show. For the CCAE production the musical production prior to the show was the pre-musical treat presented, drinks available in the lobby. Make sure to arrive early as this is a fun and exciting way to get you ready for the musical.

A round of applause to Casting Director Lindsay Brooks and Artistic Director/Director J. Scott Lapp for their perfect casting of all members of this group of actors. Each performer brought tremendous energy to the musical, each playing a variety of instruments as well as playing different roles as the story line of the musical developed.  One key to the casting of this musical is making sure the two leads voices blend together and are complimentary on the number of songs they perform together as well as the solo numbers they sing. Tom Frank as Guy and Ana Marcu as Girl could not have been any more perfect in their selection as the leads for this show.  Frank has previously performed in a production of Once and Marcu has been in a number of Off-Broadway productions. Franks powerful, raw, emotional voice stood out on songs like “Leave”, “Say It to Me Now”, and “Sleeping”. Ana had a passionate, tender voice in “Song Without Words” and “The Hill”. Together the audience was in awe when they sang “Falling Slowly” and when they joined with the company in “If You Want Me” and the emotional “When Your Mind’s Made Up.” The Company’s A cappella, moving performance of “The Moon”, toward the end of the musical, left the audience stunned for a moment when the song finished then bursting into rousing applause for the number.

Once is a romantic musical, set in Dublin, Ireland. It deals with lost love, finding love, friendship, taking a chance, fighting for what you want, not giving up, family and commitment. The songs for the musical revolve around all of these emotions and life lessons. Perhaps Kent Brisby, who played “Guy’s” father said it best, “To live you have to love”, when he was speaking to his son about what his son was going through with his ex-girlfriend and with the young Czech Girl.

The basic story live follows Tom Frank, referred to as “Guy”, meeting Ana Marcu, referred to as “Girl”, on the streets of Dublin, as he is set to give up his search to become a successful musician and song writer and having lost his girlfriend who has moved to New York. The young Czech “Girl” enthusiastically encourages “Guy” after hearing him sing and finding a song in his guitar case he has written. She convinces him to continue when she finds out he repairs vacuum cleaners saying if he repairs her broken vacuum, she will play his music and help him. This begins a relationship which will develop into a semi-romantic relationship as they work on building “Guy’s” confidence, getting a studio to help produce a demo tape of his songs and along the way meeting “Girl’s” family and her daughter as well as hearing about her relationship with her husband, who has left her. At one point, “Girl” tells “Guy”, “It is terrible to be wasting a life because you are afraid of it.” You always hope things will work out for the Irishman and the Czech girl, but something always tells you it probably will not.

The Cast for Once includes veteran performers, several from the San Diego and North County area, several performing for the first time at CCAE and one young performer making her stage debut. Kent Brisby played “Guys” Dad and performed on mandolin. Judy Carlstrom played “Girl’s” Mom Baruska and performed on Concertina and Hammer Dulcimer. Olivia Duval played Ex-Girlfriend and performed on Violin and percussion. David Kirk Grand played Billy and performed on Guitar and percussion. Morgan Hollingsworth played Eamon and performed on Guitar, Mandolin and Violin. Laura Leo Kelly played Andrej and performed on Ukelele, Guitar, Melodica and percussion. David Lamoureux played Svec and performed on Accordian, Guitar, and Drums. James Michael McHale played Bank Manager and played Bass and Guitar. Marta Rymer played Reza and played violin. Erich Schroeder played Emcee and performed on Guitar. Young Kindergartener Becca Last played Girl’s daughter Ivanka and was making her stage debut. An audience favorite from the supporting cast was David Kirk Grant who as music shop owner Billy had the audience laughing with his antics trying to defend Girl with his enthusiastic karate kicks and in another scene when he overzealously was in opposition to the Bank Manager joining the musicians when they were at the rented studio to play Guy’s music.

One of the standout features of this musical is the simplicity of the set design. Matthew Herman, Scenic Designer, built a set with a variety of levels forming the backdrop area of the walls and the bar. Tables and chairs were brought on stage by the performers, as they were singing and playing, to create the different scenes. They would become Girl’s apartment, a karaoke bar, a music shop, or a bedroom. Guy and Girl in one scene go to a high point above the set and the hanging lights lower to become the lights of Dublin. A beam in the back of the bar area also was a screen area for Czech words and translations at various times. When Guy told Girl he loved her she replied in Czech “I love you” shown on the beam but told Guy it meant “It looks like rain”. Other members of the CCAE Creative Team included Diane L. David – Production Stage Manager, Michelle Miles – Lighting Designer, Janet Pitcher – Costume Designer, Andrew Nagy – Sound and Projection Designer, Heather Longfellow – Property Master, Caitlin Muelder – Dialect Coach, Melissa Bonilla – Assistant Stage Manager, Jordan Beck – Managing Producer and Neil Dale – Production Manager.

Even if you have seen Once this is a performance you should not miss. Once will run until May 7th at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. Tickets are available at www.artcenter.org or call 800-988-4253. Parking is free at the Center. Next up at CCAE is The Light in the Piazaa beginning on June 17th.


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