I returned to the city after Christmas heartsore. Literally, I think I have some sort of ulcer gnawing away at my insides from missing home so much. I never thought I would grow into a female version of Woody Allen, but it looks like a distinct possibility.
Upon arriving at my freezing apartment, the only thing that kept me from crying wee wee all the way home was knowing that my friend Brendan had gotten me a Christmas present: tickets to a show the weekend after I returned. Not any show, but the impossible-to-get-tickets-to-because-it’s-totally-sold-out-and-in-an-off-Broadway-theater “Once”.
I have to admit, the first time I saw the movie “Once”, I was not distinctly moved. There are a few good reasons for this. Firstly, the two people who starred in the movie and wrote the unearthly songs are not trained actors. Many of the scenes in the movie fell flat and failed to achieve any sort of dramatic arc. Maybe I’m too actor-y, but this is the stuff I look for! I’m pretty sure the book wasn’t as strong in the movie either. The musical’s a lot funnier than the movie which in turn makes the gloomy parts sadder. Enda Walsh, the Irish playwright who’s rewritten “Once” for the stage, has crafted a smartly sweet script that the explores what it means to not only be human (which every good script should do anyway), but a human artist (so much harder).
Ultimately, this is the story of guy meets girl, girl brings guy back to life, and maybe guy does the same for her. The only way this show will work is if the two leads, the Guy and the Girl, are dynamite talents with charisma coming out of every pore of their beings. Not only do these two performers need to be a impressive actors and commercially soulful singers, they also have to be magnetically attractive and play an instrument. Luckily, the people behind Once got pretty darn close.
The Girl, played by Cristin Milioti, is simply luminous. Her eyes, big pools of curiosity, sympathy, and silent suffering are impossible to ignore whenever she is on stage. For you actors out there, Milioti is a master class in moment-to-moment. Every move she makes, every word that comes out of her diminutive mouth is filled with such clear intention it makes you alternatively ache and rejoice.
The Guy, played by a too-beautiful-to-be-real Steve Kazee (a distinct change from the rather rough-looking movie Guy), is a little more toned down. Honestly, I’m glad he is. His character is not the active one in this tale. Instead, he’s someone who’s allowing himself to be pushed along by the current of life, having long since given up on steering his vessel. (As a certain song will tell you about 4 times…). Kazee played this hurt, lost man with delicacy, never pushing. The only moments when he stole the stage from the Girl were when he let out Glen Hansard’s wounded animal roar at the height of his songs, when the walls have come down between his insecurity and his painfully brilliant genius.
I think the biggest difference between this show and the movie may have been a very personal change in me. When I saw the movie, I was somewhere between the end of high school and my first couple years in the Musical Theatre department at the University of Michigan. I believed in my talent, which meant I believed in myself. I had no reason to connect to this almost-broken-down man, and I couldn’t see the incredible value of this little woman walking into his life and nurturing in his genius. A good way into my second year out of college, believe me, I can see the value.
A month ago, I presented a reading of a show I had written about my first year in New York. It was the scariest thing I have ever done, the first notes sung in front of a group of my peers somewhat akin to jumping out of an airplane. After that night, I thought there was nothing I couldn’t do. It felt like I had finally stepped into my own version of New York, like it had really become what it wanted to be. Of course, now I have to face the real production, and I’m scared all over again. Somewhere in the last couple years, the girl who rolled her eyes at the movie “Once” learned to fear failure. As, the Guy says to the Girl, staring out over their city
Learning what it is to fear is the worst of all lessons.
“Once” does what I want all theatre to do. It told me a wonderful story that left me feeling changed. I feel inspired to stop protecting the stuff inside of me and let it out for the world to hear, even if it’s just for my own catharsis. As the song says,
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice. You’ve made it known.
To get a different vantage point of “Once” check out the previous Watch Yo Mouth!? blog Brushing the Dust Off of the Everyday by Quinn, which covers the original movie. Though our initial opinions differ, it just goes to show how differently drama and music affect those who partake in its journey.