Music Takes Center Stage in Once at Broward Center for the Performing Arts

Stuart Ward and Dani De Waal sing "Falling Slowly" together in the enchanting musical, Once, now playing at Broward Center.EXPAND
Stuart Ward and Dani De Waal sing "Falling Slowly" together in the enchanting musical, Once, now playing at Broward Center.
Photo by Joan Marcus

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts began its fall 2015 season of Off Broadway shows on October 6 with the adapted-from-film Once, a charming, indie-fied Irish tale about two musicians whose crossing paths result in some truly beautiful, heartbreaking music together.

As crowds filtered in on opening night, the ensemble cast serenaded the auditorium with Irish ballads and lively jigs, inviting anyone to come up on stage and gather around as they sang their souls out from the set of a gritty Dublin pub.

The scene was so authentic guests could walk up to the bar for a pint and bring it back to their seats. Standing just feet away from the performers, overhearing familiar pub chatter, it was a treat to feel immersed in the music and story even before the show officially began.

The entire cast of Once not only sing all the songs, but also play all the music on their instruments—somewhat of a rarity in Broadway shows. While there’s not as much dancing or flamboyant spectacle throughout the show, the camaraderie among the ensemble as they play together is palpable. A simple set and storyline also allow the music to take center stage and really shine.

As the lights dim and the cast strum their instruments, we enter into the tragic tale of struggling street musician "Guy" (played by Stuart Ward), who recently lost his love to another man. Heartbroken, all he has left are his songs, and the vacuum repair shop he runs with his father.

The entire cast of Once also acts as the full orchestra for this immersive musical experience.
The entire cast of Once also acts as the full orchestra for this immersive musical experience.
Photo by Joan Marcus

"Girl" (Dani De Waal), happens across Guy one day as he sings away his sorrows at his shop and won’t leave him alone until he agrees to repair her Hoover. The two end up playing together at Billy’s pub (Billy is played by Evan Harrington), and soon decide to record an album together.

Their chemistry grows as they discover all of the grave details of their past, eventually revealing that Girl is married and has a daughter. Although Guy declares his love for Girl, she decides she must work things out with her husband. He leaves for New York to fulfill his dreams of establishing a music career and make amends with his old Irish sweetheart.

Offering up an unconventional ending in that its two beautiful protagonists don't end up together, the stage adaptation of Once really drives home the fact that this tale was never about romantic relationships, or even friendships so much as it was about the music itself. This is a musical that's literally driven by the music and embodied by it, instead of its songs serving as mere accessories to the storyline. There’s a reason this show won eight Tony awards, and it’s not because the songs and dances were prim, polished, and perfectly executed.

Ward’s voice is raw, and he contorts it to convey his brokenness. In fact, the entire cast express the emotion of the lyrics and the music with their voices, giving less focus to proper annunciation or nailing a note exactly. What results is a deftly hewn performance that's true-to-life, and true to the human experience. 

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As Girl says, “These songs are about what it means to be a person.”

Everyone has dreams, the musical demonstrates, but fears and sorrows often get in the way of accomplishing them. Though Guy is burdened with the mundane rhythms and everyday struggles of life, he uses his music to unleash his true self. Lacking the confidence on his own to share his gift with others, it takes shared experience and real human connection to finally let himself go. That’s why making music is such a magical and liberating practice; It’s beautiful to express your feelings through song, but it’s even more powerful to share those feelings with others. Girl says, “These songs need to be sung for those who have ever lost a love.”

Though the finale was somewhat abrupt and the storyline disillusioning, Once's commitment to staying true to life and its own authentic self help make it a successful musical that lets the music shine above all else while driving home a universal human experience of love and connecting.

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Broward Center for the Performing Arts

201 SW 5th Ave.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312


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