Though it can’t quite match the bittersweet magic of John Carney’s film version, the latest stage production of Once — running at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through Oct. 18 — is undeniably a charmer. Carney’s 2006 movie was simple and straightforward, while the stage version puts some strain on the boy-meets-girl story by stretching it out to a proper Broadway musical running time. But hearing the songs live — wrenching, buoyant, moving — and watching the exuberant cast dance this familiar tune more than makes up for the stretch.
Expertly staged and choreographed, this Once uses the show’s familiar setup: The set is a Dublin bar (bring cash, and you can buy yourself a drink on stage before the show and during intermission). As audience members sip, the players filter out and kick off the show with a set of familiar Irish songs, from the rousing Star of the County Down to the haunting Raglan Road (there is no orchestra; all the music is provided by the musicians on stage). It’s a smart, fun and inclusive opening that sets the stage for the performances to come.
Into this joyous swirl of guitars and fiddles and mandolins stumbles a broken-hearted guy (Stuart Ward), who performs an impassioned Leave — and catches the eye of a girl (Dani de Waal). She’s Czech; he’s Dublin born and bred. She wants him to fix her vacuum cleaner (that’s his day job). Recently dumped by his girlfriend, he’s drawn but wary when she offers him music as payment.
But by the time they arrive at a local music shop, and she sits down at the piano and he pulls out his guitar, and they sing one of his songs together — the gorgeous Falling Slowly, which won writer/performers Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová an Oscar, every bit as powerful live as it was on screen — the audience knows what’s about to happen to them.
While filmmaker Carney — who also explored the power of music to bring people together in his overlooked film Begin Again — focused solely on the two leads, the stage Once adds characters to flesh out the script, not a bad conceit in general, although some of the exchanges still feel like padding. De Waal’s character is a bit too flip and perky, but still, when she and Ward and the rest of the ragtag band perform When Your Mind’s Made Up, you’re left breathless and thrilled, reminded again how notes strung together in the right order can wring your heart.
If you go
What: ‘Once’ by Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová and Enda Walsh.
Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (’additional matinee 2 p.m. Oct. 14, no evening show Oct. 18), through Oct. 18.
Cost: $35-$90 ($125 club level).
Information: 954-462-0222 or www.browardcenter.org.