“Once” is a simple, powerful musical romance

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Once musical, two men playing guitar face to face.
The cast of "Once" at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo by Joan Marcus

This is a show you must see, preferably with someone you love

Following their raucous production of The Rocky Horror Show last month, the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Penn., makes a 180-degree turn by presenting Once, a romance set to music that is a work of powerful beauty in its pared-down simplicity. It is a tale of heartbreaking romance. It is a show you must see, preferably with someone you love.

Guy and Girl standing face to face
Matt DeAngelis (as Guy) and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy (as Girl) in “Once” at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo by Joan Marcus

The show, based on the 2007 movie of the same name, has a book by Enda Walsh with music and lyrics by the movie’s stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. It tells the story of the Guy, a street musician (Matt DeAngelis) and the Girl, a Czech immigrant (Mackenzie Lesser-Roy). In the course of a week, they meet, write songs paralleling their burgeoning relationship, and produce an album of those songs. Along the way, they are helped by music store owner Billy (Brandon Ellis), the musician’s father (Andy Paterson), the girl’s flatmates (Jacob Brandt, Seth Eliser, and Lauren Wright), her mother (Tina Stafford), her young daughter Ivanka (Olivia Pirrone), and a music-loving bank manager (Jenn Chandler).

There is no orchestra per se. Twelve of the thirteen cast members play at least one instrument; many of them play more. Exuberantly directed by Travis Greisler and choreographed by Misha Shields, the cast explodes with infectious energy in their acting and musicianship. As for the show itself, it is a marvel of simplicity. There is not a wasted scene nor an extraneous song. The score does not so much convey plot as it allows the emotions of the characters to be fully expressed.

The production designers have done their work well, converting the show’s simplicity into spare but evocative designs. Nate Bertone’s spacious set easily becomes flats, shops, and performing/recording spaces, at one point becoming a park overlooking the sea wrapped in a field of stars. Travis McHale’s lighting designs, including that starry sky, enhance the scenic designs. David Withrow’s costumes give the characters a grounding in the lower-class neighborhood where they reside.

Guy and Girl talking
Tina Stafford (as Baruska), Matt DeAngelis (as Guy) and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy (as Girl) in “Once” at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo by Joan Marcus

Once is a show for the heart, and it succeeds in capturing the audience in its web of emotion. There are rare shows for which I recommend hocking your grandmother to purchase tickets. I am pleased to say that Once is one of those rare treats.

Credit goes to the Bucks County Playhouse for their sensitive presentation of this musical. A fresh love story, music by turns rousing and romantic, and knowledgeable actors led by a talented director make this a show for which I strongly recommend journeying into New Hope. You owe it to yourself to see this production of Once before its run comes to an end.

Once is presented by the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Penn., through November 30, 2019. For tickets and information, visit BucksCountyPlayhouse.org.