Theater review: 'Once' has lively dance, haunting melodies, bittersweet sliver of love story
The musical opened Friday at the NorShor Theatre.
DULUTH — “How many times do you find the right person?” was the tagline for the movie poster for “Once,” a critically acclaimed 2007 low-budget film. The unspoken question, however, is even if you meet that one right person, will you both be at a place in your lives to act on your feelings?
Those questions were also at the heart of the 2011 Broadway musical version of “Once,” nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning eight, including Best Musical. The Duluth Playhouse debuted their 2022-23 season with this gem of a show that completely charmed their opening night audience.
The simple plot features a despondent Dublin street performer, known only as “Guy,” who is ready to leave his guitar behind on the pavement and walk away from any hopes of a career in music. Just at that exact moment, he meets a sunny, optimistic Czech immigrant “Girl,” and in a whirlwind five days they change each other’s lives forever.
Playing the couple experience a "meet cute" chance encounter when she is taking her vacuum to be fixed, and he just happens to work at his father’s vacuum shop, are the captivating Steven Grant Douglas and Alyson Enderle, both Minnesota Duluth theater graduates.
Equity actor Douglas’s credits include many regional theater roles and two national tours, Sam Wheat in “Ghost the Musical” and “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” playing Summer’s husband. Enderle has performed in many productions in Duluth, Including most recently in “Ragtime” and “Footloose.”
Their chemistry is undeniable in what does not play out as a stereotypical musical theater love story. Both have stunning solos lamenting their previous failed relationships and exploring their growing feelings for each other. One of the musical’s highlights is their exquisite duet, “Falling Slowly,” the Oscar-winning best song from the film.
A demanding evening for the ensemble’s talented performers requires each of them to play at least one musical instrument and some of them playing several. Also acting as characters in the story, they provide many of the show’s most comic moments, and even kick up their heels in spirited dance numbers throughout the evening.
The reprise of the breathtaking song “Gold” late in Act II has the company singing a cappella in one of the most gorgeous full-cast vocals I have heard on an area stage.
Also “hitting all the right notes” is the entire production team. Curtis Phillips and his dramatic set with its thematic display of musical instruments and lighting designer Ethan Hollinger’s evocative designs are particularly top-notch.
Making her Playhouse debut, director Ann Aiko Bergeron has a distinguished career of musical theater direction and choreography and as a UMD Professor of Theatre. In “Once,” Bergeron demonstrated her magical touch to bring what she describes as a “fantasy” to glowingly beautiful life.
Showing the power of music as a universal language and a way for broken souls to be healed, the show is warm, funny and decidedly worth seeing more than “once.”
If you go
What: The Duluth Playhouse’s Production of “Once”
Where: NorShor Theatre
When: Sept. 16-Oct. 2; Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m.
Tickets: $30-$55 (25% off all new ticket purchases for any opening weekend performances), 218-733-7555, duluthplayhouse.org