ONCE (Bucks County Playhouse): Once upon a time in New Hope

Something magical is happening in New Hope, Pennsylvania, at the Bucks County Playhouse. It happens when you walk into the lobby and the company of actors/singers/musicians perform a pre-show concert of Irish folk songs. You see they are just oozing talent and goodwill. It happens early on in the first act of Once, when the sheer beauty of “Falling Slowly” knocks your socks off. It happened for me midway through the first act when I realized that the wooden, tavern-like set (Nate Bertone) is actually the inside of a guitar. It happens in the second act when Enda Walsh’s delightful book brings life and charm to every character. In the midst of all this, somehow the whole is even better than the sum of its remarkable parts.

Once, which opened Saturday night at Bucks County Playhouse, is based on the 2007 Oscar-winning film of the same name. The musical tells the story of an Irish guy, Guy, who meets a Checkoslavian girl, Girl, while busking on the streets of Dublin. Guy has recently had his heart broken and is on the brink of throwing away his guitar and his musical ambitions along with it. Girl sees Guy’s genius, and with some help from her friends and family shows him that he is capable of achieving his dreams. If all of this seems a bit old school, well, it is. Girl doesn’t have much of a purpose except to pine for and illuminate the genius of Guy. In less deft or creative hands, the whole affair could feel rote at best and misogynist at worse. However thanks to the able direction of Travis Greisler and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy’s charming and deep performance, Once shines beyond its deceptive simplicity.

Across the board, the performances astound. The ensemble’s chemistry explodes off the stage. Matt Angelis’s vocals soar as Guy. Tina Strafford brings the house to their feet as Baurska, Girl’s mother. Brandon Ellis, Jacob Brandt, Seth Eisler, Lauren Wright, and Jenn Chandler bring the most to their heartfelt and comedic portrayals of supporting character roles. All of them can sing their faces off… and dance (Misha Shields contemporary choreography is lovely)… and play several instruments. It almost isn’t fair.

Lucky for all of us in Philly, New Hope is only an hour away.

[Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main Street, New Hope, PA] November 8-30, 2019;

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