“Graham Norton and Once the Musical”

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Graham Norton’s show was graced with the presence of the lead cast of Once the Musical last Friday night, with Declan Bennet and Zrinka Cvitešić performing the Oscar-winning ‘Falling Slowly’ for the live audience.

Once was developed from the acclaimed 2007 film of the same name by the Irish playwright Enda Walsh and retains the Academy Award-winning music of the film, written by composers Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.  Walsh’s version originally played at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway in 2012, where it was the winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  The show recently came to London’s West End and is now showing at the Phoenix Theatre.

Once is the tale of a Guy and a Girl.  Dubliner Guy is a vacuum repairman by day and underappreciated singer-songwriter by night, who is disenchanted with his unsuccessful attempts at becoming a recognised musician and about to quit the business.  Then he meets a young Czech immigrant, Girl, who admires his love songs, and comes to accompany his guitar with her piano playing.  The action takes place over a mere week, as the two work towards recording an album together, in collaboration with friends from the bar they play at, and a romance complicated by cultures and other factors develops.

Declan Bennet, who plays Guy, is himself a singer-songwriter known in the UK and America, and has recently released his third pop album.  He has also starred in the world-renowned, Tony Award-winning rock opera Rent, as Roger.  Zrinka Cvitešić (Girl) began her career in theatre as a youngster, playing Cinderella in her native Croatia.  She later went on to win the Sarajevo Film Festival Best Actress Award for her role in the film What Is A Man Without A Moustache? in 2006, and more recently the 2012 Bernard Wicki Award for Best Actress for her role in Michaela Kezele’s My Beautiful Country.

A particular appeal of Once, besides the eternal themes of ‘love, friendship and music’, is the fact that the actors play their own instruments live on stage.  Indeed, it has been described as an ‘intimate’ production, feeling very like a ‘pub concert’ in parts (no doubt in part to the pre-show section, the actors part of a ‘pub set’, inviting audience members to join them for a drink from the bar onstage).  This ‘communal’ feel of the show would appeal to younger audience members, but – although the love story doesn’t venture into the explicit – there is strong language in parts, which might concern those with very young children.

The Phoenix Theatre opened in 1930, but only began showing musicals in the 1980s.  It has been host to many such productions since, notably Willy Russell’s acclaimed musical, Blood Brothers.  Given this, and Once aiming with its actor-musicians to ‘unleash all the giddy exhilaration of an Irish ceilidh live on stage’, there surely couldn’t be a better venue.

All ages should appreciate Once, a vivid and vibrant embodiment of an ode to the power of music.