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Once – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
July 14, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal from the ONCE Tour Company © Joan Marcus

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal from the ONCE Tour Company © Joan Marcus

Calling all romantics. 

Once, the show that won eight Tony Awards in 2012, is a poignant love story set in Dublin where Girl (Dani de Waal) meets Guy (Stuart Ward) on open mic night in a rundown pub. She’s a piano-playing emigrant from Czechoslovakia. He’s a lovelorn, guitar-playing, vacuum cleaner repairman who’s lost his sweetheart to the lures of New York City. The rest of the cast, brilliantly talented musicians, singers and dancers, are the onstage orchestra who, when not dancing or interacting on center stage, sit in full view of each other in rows on each side of the one-set stage. Shakespeare would love this. 

Although this is a musical, it is a quantum leap from the razzle-dazzle shows we have come to expect from Broadway. Irish playwright Enda Walsh gives us a story with pure Celtic heart and soul, and Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova fill it up with memorable music and meaningful lyrics. Oh well, there is Guy’s goofy number “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy”, a paean to Girl and reference to his mundane day job.

There is plenty of dry humor and tongue-in-cheek wit, the sort we expect from Irish theatre, but here often unexpectedly delivered by the Czechs who speak in English with Czech accents while Czech translations are projected above the stage.

Once 3 – ONCE Tour Company © Joan Marcus

ONCE Tour Company © Joan Marcus

Calling all music lovers.

This show is for you too, with tremendous performances by Evan Harrington as Billy, the beefy, and romantically inept, pub owner who plays guitar, percussion and ukelele; Dani de Waal on piano as Girl; Stuart Ward on a mean guitar as Guy; Scott Waara on mandolin as Da, Guy’s supportive father; John Steven Gard as Eamon a role that calls for him to play piano, percussion, melodica and harmonica; Benjamin Magnuson as the soft-hearted bank manager on cello and guitar; Alex Nee as Andrej on electric bass, ukulele, guitar and percussion; Matt DeAngelis as Svec, the wild and crazy, former heavy metalhead who rocks out on guitar, mandolin, banjo, drum set and percussion; Tina Stafford on raging accordion and concertina as Baruska; and the fantastic musical talents and duets of Erica Spyres on violin and percussion, and Erica Swindell on violin.

Once 6 – ONCE Tour Company © Joan Marcus

ONCE Tour Company © Joan Marcus

Back to the story, a romance played out in evolving vignettes to the tune of fierce Irish jigs, tenderhearted ballads and soul-stirring folk rock. Though we wonder if they’ll ever get together, fifteen musical numbers keep us guessing and provide tension to the plot. The show won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album, and though you may be more familiar with the bittersweet music of “Falling Slowly” and “Leave”, be prepared to take out the tissues for “Gold”, an a cappella showstopper in the second act. Sung by the entire company the goosebump-inducing tune fills the theatre with hope and longing and the sense that no matter where our star-crossed lovers end up, we have seen one of the most exquisitely electrifying musicals of our generation.

Highly recommended.

Through August 16th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

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