Theatre Review: ONCE at PlayhouseSquare

Blogkeeping: Congratulations, entry 16 – amanda @minky80, for winning the Compassion from Fashion giveaway. Please respond to my email by Monday confirming you can attend.

When I think of PlayhouseSquare’s Palace Theatre, I smile at memories of epic productions. Impressive theatricality along the lines of Wicked, Les Miserables, and this Fall’s Sleeping Beauty. BROADWAY in full capital letters.

That’s why I was curious to see ONCE at PlayhouseSquare. Based on the Oscar-winning indie film of the same name, it tells a very intimate story between a Guy and a Girl in Ireland. No elaborate costumes, set changes, or special effects, not even character names. Just storytelling, poetry, and music.

I wondered how a quiet story like this would play in a commanding setting like the Palace. However, when I attended the 2013-2014 Broadway in CLE preview, ONCE’s music got its hooks in me. It’s why I may have definitely jumped out of my seat at work when I was invited to attend the show’s media night on Tuesday.

ONCE at PlayhouseSquare through Nov. 24.

ONCE is at the Palace Theatre through Nov. 24. All images and video courtesy of PlayhouseSquare.

As Scott and I walked into the Palace about 15 minutes before curtain, we saw that the party had already started onstage and was spilling into the orchestra section. An Irish pub had taken over as a group of musicians traded tunes and stories. The sounds of an accordion, violins, and guitars wafted through the rows. And audience members waited in line to go up onstage and enjoy a pint.

This preshow vibe was much different than the quiet hum of other shows – more energetic and lively. Any questions I had about how the show would fill the space were answered – they’d fill it with songs.

As the audience returned to their seats at show time, the band kept playing and we heard a wistful poem from an older musician about long-ago love. Then a young musician stepped up to share his story – an angry, powerful song about a breakup.

The house and stage lights dimmed as he sung. Only a spotlight remained on this Guy and the Girl who approached the stage from the aisles, drawn – as the rest of the audience was – by his music.

ONCE at PlayhouseSquare: Guy meets Girl over music

ONCE at PlayhouseSquare: Guy meets Girl over music

ONCE tells the story of an Irish musician, who – after the death of his mother and his ex-girlfriend’s move to New York – is about to give up on his dream of escaping Dublin’s streets. But he meets a Girl, a charming young Czech immigrant, who is instantly taken by his love songs.

Over the course of a few short days, a complicated romance flowers between the Guy and the Girl. She shows him how to not live in fear of failure, how to move forward with his music and life.

ONCE originated as a film in 2007, starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who also wrote all of the music. It was shot in only 17 days for $150,000 and went on to gross $20M and win the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original song.

After the film's success, ONCE was brought to Broadway where it won 8 Tony Awards

After the film’s success, ONCE was brought to Broadway where it won 8 Tony Awards

After such a positive reaction by audiences and critics, ONCE was brought to Broadway in 2012 where it won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical and is still onstage at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

After seeing it, I understand this success. Stripping away elaborate sets, costumes and snappy choreography (though there is some dancing) allows the show’s simple story and haunting music to shine beautifully. It stands on its own and doesn’t need to be dressed up.

The result was a very personal, emotional experience. I liked that it’s not a story about finding the love of your life, but the romance of romance and what it feels to be spellbound by a person even if only for a few days.

Through its songs and talented cast of actor-musicians, ONCE captures what it's like to find fleeting love

Through its songs and talented cast of actor-musicians, ONCE captures what it’s like to find fleeting love

Just as much as it made me think of Scott, it also brought me back to every short romance and that warm feeling of connecting with someone.

The production’s music and talented cast were the reason for this enchantment. In addition to the Guy and the Girl on guitar and piano, every actor in the ensemble played an instrument and doubled as the musical’s band.

The way each scene came together and fluidly weaved in and out of songs felt like I wasn’t in the Palace watching a musical with thousands of other people, but sitting in a hole-in-the-wall pub in Ireland listening to a private concert. It’s been ten years since I visited Ireland and had to fight the urge to hop on a plane and return.

Fortunately, you don’t need to pack your bags – you can be transported for much less by getting a ticket to one of ONCE’s remaining performances.

ONCE is at PlayhouseSquare through Nov. 24; tickets start at $10 at, 216-241-6000 or the PlayhouseSquare Ticket Office

Tickets for ONCE start at $10 at, 216-241-6000 or the PlayhouseSquare Ticket Office

The show is at PlayhouseSquare through November 24. Tickets start at $10 and are on sale at, 216-241-6000 or the PlayhouseSquare Ticket Office. Performance times are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 1:00 pm and 6:30 pm.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend ONCE’s media night with a guest in exchange for blogging about my experience. Opinions are 100% my own.
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  1. Michelle @tinktastic

    Awe congrats Amanda @minky80

  2. We’re going to see this next week and we’re so excited! So glad to hear that you loved it, Amanda.

  3. Pingback: Link It Up: Must Read Posts on 11.15.2013 | poise in parma

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