ONCE – The stage musical

once-melbourneImagine two musicians (a guy and a girl), who just met while he was busking on a Dublin street, now hanging out in a musical instrument shop so they can use a piano, playing one of his original songs together for the first time. She’s vocally harmonising and adding piano to his guitar on the spot — and there you have the academy award winning song, Falling Slowly, from the movie Once.

It’s a fabulous movie about finding human connection through music (I wrote a post about it here), and now they’ve made it into a stage musical, which I was lucky enough to see in Melbourne last night.

The stage show is fabulous. It’s similar in essence to the movie, although the writers have given the stage show greater narrative drive, not to mention some comedic elements (which I could have done without). But in both versions, the music is magnificent — especially the folky music carried over from the movie, mostly written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. (There are some additional songs in the stage show.)

One of the fantastic aspects of the stage show is the incorporation of an ensemble cast, who remain on stage the whole time, either taking on the roles of supporting characters, or sitting along the sides with their various musical instruments (fiddles, guitars, cello, mandolins, percussion, piano accordion) as the orchestra. They also do a fair bit of dancing, while playing, which is fairly impressive.

There are scenes in both versions that choke me up with emotion. There’s the Falling Slowly scene, described above, when the guy’s music is transformed by the girl’s contribution of piano and vocal harmony. The blend of components lifts it to another realm. (Hence the tag line of the stage show: his music needed one thing. her.)

This is precisely what I get out of singing with the SoulSong choir — the joy of making music with others.

Then there’s the studio recording scene (which is playing as I write this, because of course I’m watching the movie) that is my favourite scene in the entire movie and was damn fine in the stage show as well. To repeat what I said in my previous post, in this scene the recording studio guy is really dismissive of the guy and the girl and the motley band of musos they’ve assembled to record a demo tape… and then he realises how brilliant the song is (When your mind’s made up).

This scene gets me every single time.

It’s the layering of the instrumentation as the song builds and the raw emotion of the vocals. Tom Parsons did a great job of channelling Glen Hansard in the Melbourne stage show — not an easy feat to get that raw emotion into the voice. Madeleine Jones was also fabulous as the girl.

During these two songs in the stage show — and probably some others as well — I sat there with a stupid grin on my face, tears welling in my eyes. Fabulous stuff.

Obviously it’s much easier to get a fix of the movie by slipping the DVD into the player… but the live stage show is definitely a different, more visceral, experience. It’s like a fabulous folk gig on steroids. And I do like folk music.

Good thing I have the soundtrack to play in the car too.

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