Fairfield Halls, Croydon
Reviewed – 9th January 2020
“The lovelorn numbers may be predominantly in the minor keys, but the show is a major triumph”
It is a popular genre at the moment: the list is vast, and still growing, of movies turned into musical stage shows. They are greeted with varying degrees of commercial and critical success, but once in a while a show stands out from the crowd. “Once” is one of those shows and it is simultaneously easy and hard to see why. Dispensing with the razzamatazz and big budget bombast it quietly charms with a simplicity that aims straight for the heart.
Based on John Carney’s film of the same name it features the music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Carney and Hansard were both members of Irish band, The Frames, and the autobiographical slant (Hansard also spent many years busking on the streets of Dublin) lends an unforced authenticity to the evening. The unwavering quality of detail extends to all aspects of the production. From the outset Libby Watson’s brilliantly effective design draws us into a pub, somewhere in Dublin and somewhere in the last two decades of the twentieth century. It’s seemingly a lock-in and a ceilidh is in full swing. In a seamless shift from pre-show to show we find ourselves back out on the streets where Guy, a busker, stands alone with just a guitar and an emotionally charged, cracked voice. You’ve seen him, every hundred yards, along Grafton Street, in rain or shine, pouring more of his heart into his battered case than passers-by drop coins. A Czech woman (known simply as ‘Girl’) is captivated. She rescues him from his torpor and the ensuing ‘will-they-won’t-they’ romance is a delight. We have fallen in love with them way before we discover whether they will fall in love with each other.
Enda Walsh’s book shows him on top form, mixing quick-fire comic patois with pathos. Often in the same line. “Love is all very well but in the hands of people it turns to soup”. We laugh but we know it’s true. And the truth is there right up to the unsentimental unpredictability of the outcome. It is as human as you can get, matched by the performances. Daniel Healy’s ‘Guy’ is a beautifully studied portrayal of the wary, diffident troubadour who can really only belt out his true self in song. Emma Lucia beguiles as ‘Girl’; brutally honest and teasing yet vulnerable and tender. The equally magnificent supporting cast take on a variety of roles, in between which they pick up a variety of musical instruments to startling effect.
And this is where the show comes into the fore. The musicianship is faultless and under Peter Rowe’s stylised direction and Francesca Jaynes’ choreography the staging is beautifully crafted. The ensemble move as one with metronomic precision. Often such technical virtuosity can soften the emotional punch, but it is the music that ultimately leads us to the standing ovation this show deservedly receives. Rooted in Celtic folk and Irish culture it has a very contemporary feel, be it Indie-Folk, Indie-Rock, Folk-Rock or another combination. It wears its influences openly but there is no denying the heart-melting effect of the close harmonies and keening melodies. Lucia’s gorgeous solo rendition of ‘The Hill’, the ensemble, a Capella ‘Gold’, Healey’s tender, melancholic ‘Leave’ are but a few of the numbers that pave the way to the climactic, Oscar-winning ‘Falling Slowly’ which, once again, hits the jackpot.
‘Once’ is a musical that is anthemic and intimate. The lovelorn numbers may be predominantly in the minor keys, but the show is a major triumph.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Mark Senior
Fairfield Halls until 11th January then UK tour continues
Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Full casting is announced today for Footloose: The Musical, which returns next month following a smash-hit 2016 tour. Opening at New Wimbledon Theatre on Friday 21 April, the tour will include a strictly limited West End season at The Peacock, playing for three weeks from Tuesday 12 September 2017. Full tour schedule attached.
Joshua Dowen will play Ren McCormack, the role immortalised on screen by Kevin Bacon. Joshua’s stage credits include Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse, Cool Rider at the Duchess Theatre and All or Nothing at the Vaults Festival.
The cast also features Hannah Price (reprising her performance from the 2016 tour) as Ariel Moore, Reuven Gershon (Let It Be, West End and Broadway) as Reverend Shaw, Lindsay Goodhand (Crazy For You, Watermill Theatre) as Ethel McCormack, Laura Sillett (Grease, International Tour) as Rusty, Connor Going (The Pirates of Penzance, Sh*tfaced Shakesepare) as Chuck, Emma Fraser (The Vaudevillians, Les Enfants Terribles) as Wendy Jo, Gracie Lai (Avenue Q, UK Tour) as Urleen, Tomas Wolstenhome (Once, West End) as Bickle, Dominic Gee Burch as Jeter and Alex Marshall (Buddy, UK Tour) as Wes. The cast also includes Luke Dowling, Grace Lancaster, Laurence Libor, Jamie Ross and Lauren Storer.
They join the previously announced Gareth Gates as Willard and Maureen Nolan as Vi Moore.
Based on the 1984 screen sensation starring Kevin Bacon, Footloose: The Musical tells the story of city boy Ren, who has to move to a rural backwater in America where dancing is banned. All hell breaks out as Ren breaks loose and soon has the whole town up on its feet. Featuring classic 80s hits including Holding Out for a Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear it for the Boy and the unforgettable title track, Footloose: The Musical is set to take the world by storm once again, bursting with youthful spirit, dazzling dance and electrifying music.
When the film was released in 1984, it became the highest-grossing February release in US film history. The soundtrack album ended the year-long reign of Michael Jackson’s Thriller at number one and went on to top album charts all over the world, eventually selling in excess of 17 million copies. Footloose was nominated for a Golden Globe, and both the title song and Let’s Hear It for the Boy received Academy Award nominations. Footloose: The Musical first opened on Broadway in 1998 where it ran for 709 performances, with a London production following in 2006.
Gareth Gates rose to fame through the inaugural series of Pop Idol in 2001, going on to sell over 5 million records worldwide and have hits across the globe. His version of Unchained Melody sold over a million copies in the UK and is the 3rd best-selling single of the Noughties. Gareth is also the youngest ever-male solo artist to debut at number 1. More recently Gareth has enjoyed a successful career on stage, with credits including Les Misérables, Legally Blonde and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. In 2014 Gareth appeared in the final series of Dancing on Ice, and joined boyband 5th Story as part of ITV’s second series of The Big Reunion, touring arenas with bands including Blue and Five.
Gareth will not appear in Wimbledon and Chester.
Maureen Nolan has been singing with her sisters since she was nine years old, when they became one of Europe’s first girl bands, The Nolans. Best known for their smash hit single I’m in the Mood for Dancing, The Nolans enjoyed phenomenal record sales worldwide, and worked with some of the world’s most respected artists including Frank Sinatra. On stage, Maureen has played Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers in the West End and on tour to critical acclaim. She was the fourth Nolan sister to play the role, earning them entry into the Guinness Book of World Records. Other credits include Sadie in Girl’s Behind, Jill in Mum’s the Word and Sarah in The Naked Truth.
Footloose: The Musical has music by Tom Snow and lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and is adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. It is based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford. It is directed by Racky Plews (American Idiot, West End) with choreography by Matthew Cole, design by Sara Perks and musical supervision by Mark Crossland. It is produced by David Hutchinson and Phillip Rowntree for Selladoor Productions, Tristan Baker and Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment, Jason Haigh-Ellery and Stephen McGill Productions. It is presented by arrangement with R&H Theatricals Europe.
Production photography by Matt Martin
from previous UK Tour