‘Once’ brings its musical twists and charm to London’s West End

Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić in "Once."

Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić in “Once.”

After becoming a sensation on Broadway and winning eight Tony Awards, including Best New Musical, Once has finally opened in London’s West End. The show is an adaptation of the low-budget film of the same name, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2008.

Once tells tells the story of an Irish busker and an immigrant from Czechoslovakia who are drawn together through their passion for music. The production first opened on Broadway in 2012, with Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti originating the roles of ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’. It was then announced that the show would be transferring to the West End, and open auditions for musicians to play the leads (as the actors are also required to play instruments) were held.

Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić.

Zrinka Cvitešić and Declan Bennett.

Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić have been cast in the leading roles of ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’, and are being joined by Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Reza and Gareth O’Connor as Eamon. Declan is a singer/songwriter who has released albums and achieved chart success, as well as having portrayed Roger in Rent. Zrinka, who is from Croatia, graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb, and has performed in productions such as Romeo and Juliet, The Threepenny Opera and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Once is not your typical musical theatre experience.  While there have been many musicals out there where the cast also plays instruments, the instrumental aspect of the show seems to be an integral core to Once’s magic. Despite not being a flashy show filled with spectacle, it truly packs an emotional punch. The setting of a small, backstreet pub invites the audience in, and involves them with the action directly. The music is far from the classical idea of musical theatre, or even upbeat show tunes; instead, it plays on the more folky genres, and it truly does work, bringing a fresh and charming outlook to both Broadway and the West End.

Couples who never quite work have been featured across different kinds of storytelling for centuries, however, unlike many depictions, Once’s songs are not filled with angsty remorse, but instead focus on the acceptance of solitude. The stage production also expands on the film (which centered mostly on the two leads), and brings more characters and what makes them tick into the spotlight.

Finding the right theatre for a production has always been of the upmost importance. A good theatre should tell the audience what they are about to experience as they walk in, and the Phoenix Theatre is the perfect home for Once. A mix of contemporary and older styling, the Phoenix provides a faultless setting. It has a quirky charm, inviting the audience to celebrate in the atmosphere of the show before it even begins. Before Once, it was the home of shows such as Into the Woods and Blood Brothers.

Previews began on March 16, before the production officially opened on April 9. The opening was a star-studded event, with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Terry Wogan, Dara O’Brian and Graham Norton attending. The whole audience took to their feet to give the cast and crew a well-deserved standing ovation, and Once has since earned rave reviews.

Here’s to a brilliant run for the London cast of Once!

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  1. I saw it in previews! Definitely never seen a musical like it. I found the actual story a little weak (i think this is pointed out by many critics), but the music and singing and emotion was amazing. Definitely worth seeing! The theatre is absolutely beautiful.