There used to be a skit in the parody show Forbidden Broadway that declared the show Thoroughly Modern Millie to be the worst best musical in Tony Award history. But that was before Once.
Winner of the top Tony in 2012 — a weak season for musicals by any measure — this simple love story between a Dublin vacuum cleaner repairman/rock star wannabe and an angelic Czech immigrant is for those who like their musicals human-scale, without flashy sets or effects. As worthy as that desire is, Once reminds us to be careful what we wish for.
The show, adapted by Enda Walsh from the 2006 low-budget independent film of the same name and plot, featured an expanded score by the movie’s composers, lyricists and stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Neveretheless, it feels more like a play with music than a full-blown musical and, at Miami’s Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House this tiny, intimate show is too small for the auditorium, both physically and emotionally.
The couple, known only as Guy (Stuart Ward) and Girl (Dani de Waal), meet cute on the street in Dublin where he is a busker, belting out his angry anti-love songs for whatever coins he can earn. Yes, he had been spurned by his girlfriend and is through with love, but he never figured on Girl.
She is persistent, and not just because he works part-time in his Da’s vacuum cleaner repair shop and she has a broken Hoover. She becomes his muse, urging him to record his songs and take them to America, while also falling madly for him.
We too are supposed to develop a crush on these two young, impoverished artists. You just might, as many in Tuesday’s opening night audience seemed to have, but I remained outside their spell, indifferent to their charms, which is largely what the show is selling.
Although Dublin is virtually a character in this tale, the show takes place entirely inside one of that city’s pubs. It is populated by a crowd of barflies that double at the relatives, friends and colleagues of the central couple. The cast is also the musical accompaniment, jamming on guitars, mandolins, banjos, violins and a variety of percussion instruments. Director John Tiffany provides some flashy staging for the ensemble, but what does it say when the musical interludes between scenes are more interesting than the story itself?
Before the show actually begins, the audience is invited onstage to get into the spirit of the evening as the cast demonstrates its musical prowess and the bar of the pub is open for business. So you might as well have a beer. If you find yourself feeling about Once the way I do, a pint of Guinness will come in mighty handy.
ONCE, Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Through Sunday. Tickets: $26-$96. Call: (305) 949-6722.
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Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal dedicated his life to tracking down Nazi war criminals, and his tenacious efforts resulted in some 11,000 of them being arrested and brought to trial. His story is both educational and inspirational, and would make an eye-opening way for students to be introduced to the darkest chapter of the 20th century.
Unfortunately, Wiesenthal’s history is not particularly dramatic, at least as rendered by writer-actor Tom Dugan, who reduces it to a one-person play, called simply Wiesenthal, playing now through March 16 at the Broward Stage Door Theatre.
The context of the play is that Wiesenthal at 94, about to retire from the wearying hunt, is packing up his Vienna office to send its contents to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. But before he does, he pauses to speak to a group of American students — the audience — and tells it about his life.
As he talks, his memories come pouring out, involving phone calls, impersonations of figures from his past and other artificial staples of one-man shows.
As Dugan’s Wiesenthal tells the students with amused pride, he became known as “the Jewish James Bond.” But rather than guns and sports cars, the tools of his trade were boxes of files, telephone directories and endless patience. Hoping for one more notch on his belt before he dodders away, he demonstrates his methodology, calling a hotel in Syria where Adolf Eichmann’s former assistant is rumored to be and attempting to charm the operator into a confirmation.
In addition, he tells us about some of the more renowned Nazis he was instrumental in bringing to justice, from Eichmann to the “Butcher of Vilna” to the police underling who found and arrested Anne Frank. But these word pictures can only convey a limited amount of drama, and perhaps the stage — or at least the solo show format — is not the best way to tell this story.
As a playwright, Dugan has handcuffed himself. He is on much firmer ground as a performer, evoking the avuncular old man who is in such contrast with the larger-than-life image Wiesenthal’s deeds bring to mind. Achievements like his must never be forgotten, just as the Holocaust itself deserves to be remembered as a preventative measure against further such occurrences. But a more dramatic rendering is needed to fulfill that mission.
WIESENTHAL, Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs. Through Sun., March 16. Tickets; $38- $42. Call: (954) 344-7765.