Broadway’s production of Once graced our lovely city with a great performance last night at The Orpheum Theatre. This was my twelfth show to see at The Orpheum and it did not disappoint. Two of the things I like most about Broadway shows is their originality and of course, the music. Once was a completely different kind of show without a lot of fancy stage sets or elaborate costuming, and the story was so real, so emotional, you didnt need or want a lot of distractions. This was one of the most touching shows I have seen. It was simply amazing in it’s simplicity of telling a story between a guy and a girl.
Once is a story of a young, talented musician and it is set in a pub in Dublin, Ireland. Upon walking in to the theater, your eyes are drawn to the stage where they are letting members of the audience mingle and order some cocktails from what appears to be a real bar. The cast are already present and they break out into impromtu songs with the audience still gathered around them on stage. Every cast member has an instrument and the folk music they are playing is accented with heavy stomping on the stage floor and lots of energy from both the cast and the audience. The members of the audience that have been up on stage are slowly sent back to their seats while the music continues. The house lights stay up for a couple of more songs and I wasn’t quite sure when the actual show commenced, but it was very cool in it’s casualness and gave the gigantic room a feeling of hominess and warmth.
Early in the show all the stage lights go out except for a gold light that strikes our young musician upon the stage and bathes him in this glow that seems to come from his guitar and from the emotion with which he belts out his original tunes. When the girl enters and keeps him from leaving his guitar behind in disgust, she looks like a Tolkien fairy princess who just might live in the real world. She’s a young immigrant from Czeckoslavakia that has a little girl named, Ivanka and we learn that she is in a loveless and possibly abusive marriage. Her husband has run out on her and the child and her family has taken her in. When girl meets guy, there is chemistry and destiny and throughout the show, you root for them to find a way to be together. When the girl approaches the piano for the first time she explains that you must always say hello to a piano, and when she does say hello, you feel the love and tenderness she has for the instrument and for the songs. When they sing the duet, “Falling Slowly”, the tears became a torrent. Towards the end of the show, there is a scene where every actor on stage sings a quiet song in such an ethereal way as to make the angels in heaven jealous. You know I cry at every show, but when the ensemble performed that perfectly quiet song with such emotion and with such beauty, I literally sobbed in my seat.
I wasn’t the only one feeling slightly overwhelmed with all the emotions that the songs and the story brought out in me. When the show was over and the cast came out to take their second bow, I saw the girl actually wipe tears from her eyes as she walked to the edge of the stage. When it’s this good, it’s not called acting anymore, it’s just called brilliant.
Nearly every performance that we have seen includes a speech at the end of the night about an organization called, Broadway Cares. One of the actors takes a couple minutes to explain what Broadway Cares does and asks for donations on our way out of the building. This is a wonderful and caring charity that provides support for people with Aids/HIV and since 1988 has raised more than 250 million dollars from donations from theatre patrons. We were especially impressed last night that it was the leading man and the leading lady who missed the final curtain call because they were already in the lobby, with buckets to collect our donations. They missed some well earned accolades and instead, allowed the crowd to gather round them while they helped make the world a better place. What a great group of people, both on the stage and off.
So, another perfect night in Memphis goes into the book. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to unearth an entirely new side of myself in discovering my love for Broadway and my love for the stories. As a writer, I compare the words in each song to the words in my heart and then want to take the words from my heart and put them on paper in such a way as to bring out that same feeling and love that these musicals and plays evoke in me. I’m thinking one day, there just might be a screenplay in my heart, just begging to get out. I already have the name…..Life, The Musical.