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Once

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The musical Once began life as a that rarest of beasts, an independent foreign film which garnered critical praise, won an Oscar for best song, and became a box office success. Audiences connected with the moody not-quite-romance of the main characters and the working-class Dublin background.

 

Despite the film’s success, and the fact that it featured songwriters, transforming the film to a Broadway musical was not a foregone conclusion.  When the stage production, with a book by Enda Walsh and a score by the film’s composers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, opened on Broadway in 2012 it, once again, defied the odds by winning 8 Tony Awards and running for nearly 3 years.

 

As a musical, Once delights in its unconventionality. The songs are diegetic and do nothing to advance the story, nor do they directly reveal a character’s inner emotional life. The result is a musical that feels more like a play with music. It boasts a central relationship in which the romantic leads never kiss.  And, while performers providing their own orchestra has been seen in several Broadway productions, those have been revivals of familiar shows, not original musicals.

The story told in Once is quite simple. Guy (Rustin Cole Sailors) is a local musician who is deeply depressed and lonely after the death of his mother and his girlfriend’s relocation to American. He meets a Czech emigre, Girl (Amanda Leigh Jerry), while busking on the streets of Dublin. Girl recognizes his talent and encourages him to trust in himself. Essentially, she brings Guy back to life.

While many prefer the grittiness of the film, I find the stage version more convincing. Girl’s swift rehabilitation of Guy’s spirit-- she has him in a recording studio only days after meeting him-- feels like a charming fable when surrounded by the show’s calculated theatricality. The story feels less persuasive in the hyper-realistic film. Walsh’s engaging script also develops some of the minor characters and brings a welcome dose of humor to the proceedings.

Kent Nicholson patterns his staging on John Tiffany’s award-winning direction. This is not a failure of imagination, but a recognition that the directorial concept is intrinsic to the production. Further authenticity is found in the excellent work done by Music Director Andy Taylor, who also reprises his Broadway role as the sympathetic Bank Manager.

Sailors has the brooding looks and the soulful voice to make Guy stand out among other street musicians. He easily navigates the character’s journey from anguished inertia to uneasy confidence. Jerry nicely avoids the pitfalls in a role that can easily become a caricature or simply annoying. Her joy is infectious, though she allows us to see the sadness behind the smile.

The large supporting cast is adept at playing its musical instruments and performing the supporting roles. Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper makes Billy, an opinionated piano salesman, wonderfully ingratiating.  Alex Nee’s Andrej is both funny and touching as an émigré fighting to move up the ladder, while Zach Spound delights in Svec’s antic weirdness. Scott Waara brings a tender sense of endurance to the role of Guy’s Da.

Ralph Funicello’s richly detailed pub set is perfectly complemented by Lap Chi Chou’s expressive lighting design. Together they efficiently transport us wherever the story demands.

South Coast Repertory’s production of Once is a winner. Fans of the Broadway production can experience the show in a more intimate setting, while newcomers will discover the many charms of this unique musical.

South Coast Repertory    September 9 -30, 2017    www.scr.org

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.