by Michael Miller
Once is a gentle breath of fresh air. Simple in structure, complex in composition, and deftly performed by one of the most talented ensembles to grace the Lexington Opera House stage this season.
Coming at the end of a knock-out season of some of Broadway's greatest hits, Once is about as far from traditional as you can get. Rather than an orchestra in the pit, the actors on stage play all of their own instruments (a la John Doyle's "Company" and "Sweeney Todd"). Before the show starts, and during intermission, audience members are welcomed on the stage to mingle with the company and purchase drinks from the musical's set/bar. The music is gorgeous, rooted in Celtic tradition with a dash of neo-folk. It at times feels like the best Woodsongs concert you've ever seen.
The two main characters aren't given names. Simply "Guy" and "Girl". Sam Cieri, who takes on the musically-gifted and desperately depressed male part is outstanding. Mr. Cieri comes to the role from a stint as a Vegas dueling pianist and has few theatrical credits to his name. Based on this performance, I'd say that's all about to change.
Mackenzie Lesser-Roy takes on the complex female role. Fiercely dark and sarcastic, she gives her character great depth. And when she takes to the piano early on with a Mendelssohn piece? Haunting.
The balance of the cast, thirteen in all, perform the Irish-infused score with rigor and deftly tackle Steven Hoggett's unique choreography. Bob Crowley's scenic design keeps it simple. The entire production is deceivingly simple. You might not even notice the smart staging and design decisions that allow these characters and their story to resonate. That's art.
The plot, generally speaking, concerns the life lessons involved in meeting the right person at the wrong time. It is that collective yearning that most of us have experienced at one time or another that makes Once so compelling. Depending on your current relationship status, this show may or may not be an ideal "date night".
But my mind's made up, and there's no point trying to change it: Once is definitely the "smallest" show of this season. It's also the best.
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