In the quiet Irish town where a local guy meets a foreign girl, and they meet over a moment of music, and that moment blooms into an immediate partnership, and that partnership turns into a life-aligning realization and momentous turning point, everything that feels impossible suddenly appears within reach. In between those sparks breathes the lovely “Once,” an effervescent show that cannot leave you untouched.
Once, like once upon a time, or once in a lifetime. That “once” that once hindered your growth and now fuels your hope.
In MusicalFare’s production we meet that guy and girl — they are named Guy and Girl — and fall slowly in love. By the time the last note is played by the impressive 12-person, on-stage musician ensemble, who double as a sort of Greek chorus, it’s hard to not be swept up in your own memories. That chance encounter with a new soulmate, that random late-night conversation that never wanted to end, that manna from heaven that landed in your lap at just the right moment.
These are the magical charms that bring sunshine to this little working-class Irish town.
Of course, “Once” is not such a little tale. The 2007 musical film on which the stage version is based is beloved by many, and begat original stars and songwriters Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová an Oscar for the song “Falling Slowly.” The 2012 stage adaptation won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. A perfect indie sleeper has made good on its prospects.
On the MusicalFare stage, director Randall Kramer and choreographer Michael Walline have done the material justice. It is such a beautiful piece of theater. Its contemporary humor lands with international wit; the acoustic score sounds lush and earthy; its cast is perfectly charmed and invested. Some edges need smoothing, but it’s all right there for you.
The many humorous bits involving Girl’s Czech family don’t land as hard and as they could, except for those delivered by Nick Stevens, who turns it up to 11 as Andrej, the confident fast-food manager determined to get a promotion. Theresa Quinn’s turn as mama Barushka is quietly maternal, but not quite the comedian the role is intended to be. Maybe it was the chemistry in the room that night, but I think these shticks need some volume.
Philip Farugia and Jacob Albarella add wonderfully punctuated performances in supporting comedic roles. Mia Cimato delivers all the cute in the world as Girl’s young daughter.
Another note has to do with the relationship between the musician ensemble and the leading characters. In addition to playing all the instruments, some while dancing (Amy Jakiel singing and dancing with a cello is an effortless-looking sight), the ensemble serves as the invisible support system working to push Guy and Girl together. With the subtle nudge of a prop, the choreographic puppeteering of an arm movement, this crew conspires to enjoin this couple when the couple’s intuition says to resist. They embody fate the way Shakespeare’s Puck embodies magic. What a thrill.
All of that works masterfully, much of it at the hands of Walline’s metaphorical choreography. In addition to being amazing musicians — many of whom appear regularly in Buffalo’s best clubs — each member delivers their theatrical duties with style and purpose. The concern is that there is often too many of them on the sidelines, hindering their sense of shadow and echo. This might be due to the proportions of this relatively smaller stage, whereas a Broadway stage can better absorb a dozen silent onlookers, mandolins and accordions in hand.
Fortunately this does not distract too terribly from the divine central performances of our Guy and Girl, given so thoughtfully by Steve Copps and Renee Landrigan. Each soar in these roles, which in addition to heavy dramatics and faint humor, call for character-driven musicianship — Steve on acoustic guitar and Landrigan on piano. They play so expressively and with the kind of acting extension you hope for in a sung story. They marry the two parts of their performances with seeming ease, and justify the logic behind this enchanting, exquisite show.
“Once” by Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová and Enda Walsh
Where: MusicalFare Theatre, on the Daemen College campus, 4380 Main St., Amherst
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 4)
When: Runs through May 27; Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $44. musicalfare.com (839-8540).