Monday, April 14, 2014

"Once" Deserves a Repeat

"You've got to love Dublin for dreamin', 'ey boys?"

What would you do if you had only one chance for true love?

Once tells the story of just that: a brief but inopportune moment when two people fall deeply into a love they cannot consummate. It's the best-worst kind of heartbreaking, stealing small pieces of your hope for Guy and Girl to just be together until eventually disappointing that hope in the way that only real life unrequited love can. Once's resistance to the happy ending is its greatest strong suit, and as hard as it is to watch, it's a lovely tale and totally relate-able to anyone who's had a broken heart (probably all of us).

Fans of the film may find some differences in the stage version, but it still retains its winsome charm. The music is really the star of the show here, almost all of it haunting and lyrical. "Falling Slowly" is the most famous track from Once, and it's expectedly lovely, but other tracks (such as "If You Want Me" are equally, if not more, winning.

The voices (and talents, as all of the actors play their own instruments live) are across the board great in this show; my biggest issue with Once in fact is that they sing as an ensemble so rarely (it's magic when they all ratchet up). Stuart Ward (Guy) and Dani de Waal (Girl) do an excellent job of anchoring the cast, he with a raw rock growl and she with an almost mystical, lilting Eastern European soprano.

The set and costumes are appropriately spare, with one single large mirror in the back of the bar-set providing a 180 degree vantage point for some of the more complex choreography. In addition to providing an extra perspective, the mirror almost seemed to suggest it was reflecting the audience's experiences into the show, tying all of us together in Once. It's an appropriate metaphor for the equal parts of sadness and joy that love can bring to all of us, that there is always more than one point of view. Once reminds us of all of those things, and it's a great reminder to tell people you love them - you never know when they may have to leave.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review in Brief: Porgy and Bess

Summertime....when the living is easy.....

But is the living easy? It's unlikely that it was for Porgy and Bess in the musical of the same name, recently featured at the Ordway. 

Porgy and Bess is West Side Story meets Oliver meets Ella Fitzgerald, and I've never seen anything like it. Porgy, a crippled man, falls in unlikely love with Bess, a "loose" woman who turns to him for help after her lover kills another man. After a brief period of blissful happiness, they are separated when the negative aspects of living in poverty in the inner city come back to haunt them, and we never learn if they find each other again.

Porgy and Bess is a relatively unknown musical, which is a shame. With an extremely complex score by the magnificent Gershwins, it's also only the second musical I have ever seen with an all-black cast. I suspect this is part of the reason it's rarely performed; all I can say is that I hope it becomes a more standard part of the standard musical theater circuit.

This cast takes no prisoners, lamenting the story's sad events with haunting voices that pierce straight to the heart. Nathaniel Stampley is excellent as the perseverant Porgy, with a gorgeous voice that shines on pieces such as "I'm on My Way." David Hughey is another great voice, booming through the chorus as Jake. Alicia Hall Moran injects a coloratura tone into Bess, soaring over Stampley in duets such as "I Loves You Porgy."

Aside from the eternal classic "Summertime," other standout songs include a gorgeously robust "It Takes a Long Pull" and a beautiful spiritual interlude as the characters mourn the loss of those who die in a hurricane. The set and costumes are appropriately barebones, with some excellent lighting tricks (particularly an awesome shadow effect during "Leaving for the Promised Land"). 

Although the standard musical rotation featuring classics like Les Miserables and The Lion King is fun, it's always great to see something shake things up. Porgy and Bess deserves a wider audience, as does this cast. If you can, be sure to check it out.