Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Theater Review: Once: The Musical

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 03:10


The touring production of the Tony-Award winning musical Once makes its way to Orlando this week for a week-long residence at the Bob Carr Center for the Performing Arts. The show, which garnered several 2012 Tony Awards, including the coveted Best Musical, has become a fan-favorite in New York and has been a success in both its off-Broadway and Broadway runs. Some of what translates to the touring production works. But unfortunately, some of the performances somewhat keep the show from reaching its full potential. First let’s identify what works–The sets (which somehow managed to best the groundbreaking and technologically advanced sets of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark at the 2012 Tonys) and the lighting of the show are picture-perfect carbon copies of their Broadway counterparts. And the overall performance of the ensemble cast is strong and impressive. Unfortunately, not all of the performers in the show stand out. Or, perhaps they do, but not for good reason. And herein lies the main problem with this touring production of the show–their lead Guy (the character’s true name is never revealed throughout the show) played by Stuart Ward (who also played the role on the West End) delivers an amazingly well-acted performance that is ultimately damaged by subpar singing that results from his attempt to make his performance of the character unique from the original.

And when compared to that original Broadway lead and Tony-Award winning actor Steve Kazee, Ward’s vocals are devastatingly disappointing. His interpretation of the character is good when he’s not singing; but when the songs start, his staccato singing style butchers much of the melodic and beautiful music that made Once so beloved. Also missing from Ward’s performance is some of the gorgeous and often emotional bridging lyrics that Kazee used to really convey the emotion and heart of the music and story. A simple crescendoing and down-scaling “Yeah…” sung by Kazee on the show’s heartbreaking final number “Falling Slowly” is used to bridge a very brief instrumental interlude. Kazee’s singing of what is that small nuanced detail further illustrate the tragic sadness of the plot. It is left out by Ward altogether. And there are many examples of missing vocal nuances throughout his performance. The other lead Girl (the character’s name is also never revealed) is played beautifully by Dana deWaal. She hits the notes and emotions of the character perfectly. She is truly the one standout performer in this cast.

Another major criticism has to be given to Raymond Bokhour, who plays Guy’s dad Da. His performance was one of the flattest I’ve seen on stage in quite sometime. I’ve seen Once twice on Broadway, including a preview performance of the show featuring the entire original Broadway cast. The second time I saw the show, most of the cast (minus Kazee, who was replaced by a fantastic actor named Ben Hope) remained. In both of those performances, I do not remember the character of Da being weak, withdrawn, and sheepish. Bokhour’s interpretation of the character seemed to both my partner and I as being startlingly off. His shy and depressed demeanor significantly damaged the dynamic between his character and Guy. Girl’s sisters, brothers, and mother are skillfully portrayed by their respective actors; and although there were a couple of missed notes in the opening performance, all of the performers should be highly commended on their talent in playing both their character and the entire musical score of the show simultaneously. Witnessing that feat alone is enough of a reason to see Once.

Once truly is an amazing show. But sometimes, when actors attempt to put their own “spin” on a character, they distract from the role rather than augment it. Unfortunately, that’s what ends up happening here with this particular touring production of the show. Stuart Ward’s misdirected harsh singing style and at times rock-like vocals harden a score that is soaring with a delicate beauty. And Raymond Barkhour’s Da is so wildly divergent from what it was originally intended to be that the show seems to careen a little off-course. If you’ve never been spoiled by the amazing performances of the originals (Steve Kazee, Christin Milioti, and even Kazee’s stand-in Ben Hope), then this touring production will more than likely suffice. But, if you were lucky enough to experience the magic of that original cast, you’re more than likely going to be disappointed in the performances of Ward and especially Barkhour, whos’ own personal takes on the main and a pivotal character respectively, detract from, rather than enhance, this truly moving and beautiful show. Once plays through Sunday at the Bob Carr Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando. For tickets, visit the official Web site at: Tour Info – Once the Musical – Official Broadway Site.

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