The Review is In

No sex, still worthy: Once is a weird love musical that somehow makes you fall for it (slowly)

No sex, still worthy: Once is a weird love musical that wins in end

Once Tour Company
Broadway at the Hobby Center presents Once through Sunday. Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased online or by calling 800-952-6560. Photo © Joan Marcus
Once Tour Company
Stuart Ward as Guy and Dani de Wall as Girl in Once. Photo © Joan Marcus
Once Tour Company
The show is a stage adaptation of the 2007 namesake film. Photo © Joan Marcus
Once Tour Company
Ward and de Wall save the day and render Once into an introspective journey that will stay with you for a long time. Photo © Joan Marcus
Once Tour Company
A collection of mirrors brings the audience into the performance space. Photo © Joan Marcus
Once Tour Company
Once Tour Company
Once Tour Company
Once Tour Company
Once Tour Company

There's always that one night owl at the bar — you know the one — with a loud flamboyant personality, the life of the party surrounded by a large throng of besties. Immaculately dressed and well put together, this person is great fun if you're in this inner circle, obnoxious if you aren't.

Then there's the complete opposite character, usually sitting at the edge of the counter — a loner quiet type, quiet but interesting. A little disheveled, rough around the edges, shirt untucked, drinking an obscure craft beer and minding his or her own business. Chances are two or three stools next to this guest are empty.

This person is hard to read but not impossible to approach. Although if you do approach, which may feel weird at first, you're in for an amazing story that just might change your life — despite the many awkward silences as you strive to keep the conversation going.

Emphasis on the many — oh so many — awkward silent pauses.

 One of my art colleagues described Once as Rent without AIDS or La bohème without tuberculosis.

If musicals had stereotypical bar personalities, then Once would be the latter. Forget about scoring a date for an all-night romp. Too many issues, but worth the time invested in making a genuine connection and "Falling Slowly" (the Oscar-winning theme song) not in love with Once, but feeling deep affection for it.

Those with a penchant for flashy sets, elaborate costumes, spectacular lighting, rambunctious music and fabulous choreography should find someone else with whom to share a cocktail as Once is nothing of the sort.

The show, a stage adaptation of the 2007 namesake film, is a predictable tale of broken boy meets stronger-but-still-broken gal who help each other dig themselves out of their respective psychological holes in five days, approximately the same amount of time that the Broadway at the Hobby Center touring production plays in Houston.

Although the premise might seem weak, old, tired and overdone, the intimate tenor shifts this musical from what could never have been an ideal big spectacle into a personal singer/songwriter salon located in Dublin. A collection of mirrors hanging all around the back of the bar scene brings the audience into the performance space where music becomes a bartering currency.

 Once is an introspective journey that will stay with you for a long time.

One of my art colleagues described Once as Rent without AIDS or La bohème without tuberculosis.

The ailment in this case is a shattered spirit, unrequited love and a broken heart. Guy, a musician who fixes vacuum cleaners for a living, is one big depressed hot mess until he meets Girl, a Czech woman who's serious about calling Guy gently on his bullshit. Things get complicated when we learn that Guy has strong feelings for his ex who's living in New York City, and that Girl is in a screwed up marriage and has a daughter.

Girl and Guy do fall in love with each other but they express their feelings for each other at different times. For a fleeting moment, they imagine what life may be like if they eloped from Dublin to New York, which, of course, never happens. They don't even kiss or, as Girl says, no hanky panky.

If it were not for the soulful indie music that tugs at the heartstrings plus the right dose of comic relief, Once would be a two-and-a-half hour bore, a modern version of Tristan and Isolde in which no one gets lucky — audience included. Thankfully, the stirring melodies sung by Stuart Ward as Guy and Dani de Wall as Girl save the day and render Once into an introspective journey that will stay with you for a long time.

Like that random person at a bar who you'll never see again but still manages to change how you look at life.

___

Broadway at the Hobby Center presents Once through Sunday. Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased online or by calling 800-952-6560.