Filichia Features: Falling Quickly for "Once"

Filichia Features: Falling Quickly for "Once"

By Peter Filichia on March 29, 2018

Musicals have traditionally been big on romance. But not this one.

In fact, Boy-Doesn't-Get-Girl in Once, the 2012 Best Musical Tony-winner - which makes it all the more fascinating.

Enda Walsh's libretto reiterates what John Carney's screenplay established in 2007. It's the message that Edward Kleban wrote in "The Next Best Thing to Love" in A Class Act: friendship isn't merely close to love, but actually is love of another kind.

The values of platonic friendship are many, which is an important message to deliver to teenagers. Many saw it on stage last week when Once had its pilot amateur production at Fair Lawn (NJ) High School, courtesy of expert director John Giresi.

Indeed, Once is literally a case of Guy-Doesn't-Get-Girl, for "Guy" and "Girl" are as close as we get to learning the main characters' names. Guy is a starving artist whose day job is working in his father's vacuum cleaner repair shop. Guy lives with the man, too, ostensibly to "take care of him."

While busking on a Dublin street, Guy is approached by Girl, a Czech immigrant who's taken with his music. And if music be the food of love, Guy is going to be starving in another sense - for Girl, a pianist and lyricist, is only interested in him as a musician. They'll make beautiful music together literally - but not figuratively.

Guy becomes Girl's project. She distracts him from the long-term funk he's had from losing a beloved girlfriend; she teaches him to dress better; she negotiates a bank loan for him; she gets his career on track by forcing him to make demo recordings; she'll see that he leaves his father's house and heads to London where opportunities are greater.

You've heard that "behind every great man is a great woman?" Here instead, a great Girl is miles in front of a Guy who maybe can be great.

Guy's feelings for Girl ever increase, of course, for who wouldn't fall in love with someone who spends so much time on you and just wants to see you succeed? When he goes to kiss her, however, she grabs his face with both hands to prevent it.

She has good reason for refusing Guy's invitations to stay the night and stay in his bed: Girl's married. In the film, her husband is stuck in the Czech Republic; in the musical, he's still there, but more because they're having marital problems.

What's so refreshing is that Girl's head rules - and in fact, overrules - her emotions. She won't lead him on because someone has already led her to the altar. Girl takes her marriage vows seriously and believes in for-better-or-for-worse.

She eventually does say "I love you" to Guy (for she in fact does) - but in Czech. (A supertitle helps us there.) That's the best she can do.

As Irish and Czech as Once is, it makes room for a Greek chorus of musicians. Fair Lawn had 14 students playing 23 instruments including castanets. All seemed to be virtuosos, but Giresi revealed afterward that "Claudia Eligur learned both accordion and mandolin just for this show."

Although Guy and Girl are in their 30s, teens can relate to them. They've already undergone break-ups and heartaches. Moreover, many drama club members understand the yearning to become a successful singing-songwriter.

Choreography would seem to be difficult for performers who hold instruments, but Irish step-dancing doesn't make demands on the arms. Thus, Dustin Ballard's troupe was able to do the dances.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's score includes the Oscar-winning "Falling Slowly" and other soft-rock, folk-infused gems. "Gold" is an equally admirable song; here at Fair Lawn, what a loving look Enrique Gonzalez gave Miriam Sapozhnikov when he sang "I wouldn't trade her for gold." It emerged more beautiful still when the entire cast blended gloriously in an a capella rendition.

Sapozhnikov sang phenomenally well and was extraordinarily real at every moment. She was forthright in asking Guy personal questions and expecting answers as if it were her God-given right.

Gonzalez had a great Irish brogue and did an excellent Elvis-in- Jailhouse-Rock imitation in the self-deprecating "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy."

Marty is said to be the smallest film to ever win a Best Picture Oscar; Once may be the smallest show to ever win a Best Musical Tony. But it stood tall at Fair Lawn High School.

Read more Filichia Features .

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at