Theater review: Superb actors, musicians in ‘Once’ give SLOC a strong start to season

Emily Rose and Nick Foster in a scene from "Once" at Schenectady Light Opera Company (Carlton Media Productions).

Emily Rose and Nick Foster in a scene from "Once" at Schenectady Light Opera Company (Carlton Media Productions).

“Cead mile failte!”

We arrived at Friday’s performance of “Once”before the 8 p.m. curtain only to find a talented bunch of musicians and singers (well, the same folks, actually) already on stage, warming up the audience with Irish tunes and dancing.

“Welcome 1,000 times!”

And then began this Dublin story of Guy (Nick Foster) meets Girl (Emily Rose).

Musicians both, they bond, compose, sing, fall in love (chastely, because of prior attachments), and separate. Perhaps an unlikely pair, after all: Girl is a Czech pianist (“Always serious,” but determined and optimistic), living with her mother (an amusing Kim Kilby) and young daughter (Josephine Franklin-Rose), estranged from her husband, abroad; Guy is a depressed busker who is just about to abandon his guitar because his girlfriend (Lindsey Dodd) has left for the U.S. — and he still lives with his father (Jim Alexander).

In the course of their brief relationship, she lifts him from despair, and, with the help of friends from their respective communities, they achieve a musical success that allows them to go forward, but not together.

This stage version of a 2007 movie by John Carney features a book by Enda Walsh and music & lyrics by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova. It took home the Tony for Best Musical in 2012.

With good reason, I’d say. It’s a quirky tale, told seamlessly on Molly Waters’ detailed single set of a bar, thanks to the subtle, almost cinematic, lighting work of Laura Darling and Rachel Bratager. Katie Fitzmorris’ sound design doesn’t miss a beat.

The love story is complemented by the shenanigans of other characters, played delightfully by Sean T. Baldwin, Ryan Ribeiro, Kevin O’Toole, Michael Burns, and A.J. Testa.

Choreographer Caley Alyce Lacey has trained the ensemble to step lively (with a special nod to Siobhan Shea for her solo turn) and the balletic duo of Lacey and Andrei Bires to step softly.

And every member of the cast, well dressed by Rory Alexa, sings, dances, acts, and plays an instrument, from guitar to cello to melodica to accordion to cajon, etc.

For my money the material itself falls short in the sameness of much of the music. Guy’s songs, like “Leave,” “Say It to Me Now,” and “Sleeping,” have a narrow range, both musically and emotionally: slightly wearing. However, when the ensemble joins him, like a Greek chorus, the pieces gain intensity and appeal.

The scene that opens Act II is also a bit of a muddle, like filler. It’s especially in Act II that the production itself could pick up the pace, since Act I has been so intriguing.

Director James W. Alexander and Music Director Elizabeth Sterling, with the backing of Producer Michaela Torres, have brought the pathos and humor to vivid life. This is such an unusual project that their shared vision and SLOC experience are crucial, and nowhere is their success more evident than in the a cappella rendition of “Gold” by the entire company. Stunning.

In Foster and Rose the show has two superb musicians and actors, each finding the push-me/pull-you nature of the relationship with sweetness and dignity: Guy and Girl are not careless with each other, broken though they are. Memorable teamwork from these leads.

“Buiochas” to all for this strong start to SLOC’s 96th season!

NOTE: Masks are required

Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St.
WHEN: through Sept. 25
HOW MUCH: $32-$29
MORE INFO: 518.730.7370, or

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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