Someone wise once said that when you walk into the theatre and see a live band on stage, something wonderful is likely to happen. And that is absolutely true of the new production of Once at the Paramount Aurora. The amount of talent and multi-instrumental diversity is incredible. It’s the splendid production I’ve come to expect at the Paramount, and I would very much recommend it to anyone who loves people playing music live, because it has as much of a feel of going to see a really great band as of seeing a show.
Charmingly, they start the production with a live jam on stage and an open bar. The set design is superb and, allows shifts from scene to scene with a simple changing around of furniture. Audience members can walk up to the bar that is on the stage and order either a shot of Jameson’s or a Harp Lager. The musicians who will be acting the show are right up there playing folk music and patrons can go up on the set and sit among them until it’s time for the show to begin. It’s clever and a number of patrons were brave enough to take advantage of it.
However, the one weakness of this production was evident from that very first moment. And that was the sound design. Ordinarily there’s not a problem hearing everyone at the Paramount, but for this absolutely critical production, where sound is a major part of things and its important to be able to hear everyone clearly no matter what they’re playing, the sound was, either by accident or design, inadequate.
Often, you could see someone playing an instrument and you could not hear that instrument in the mix. Adam Rosenthal is ordinarily spot on when he works at the Paramount, and I realize that this is a challenging show to mic because you have everyone on a headset and everyone on a wireless instrument, but still. It’s critical to hear every single nuance and we missed half of Tiffany Topol’s (as Girl) vocals as she was drowned out by the piano she was playing and I saw a bass being played on stage and there was no bass in the mix, not to mention ukuleles and mandolins being strummed and nothing showing up through the sound system.
I’m a working musician, who sets up a sound system twice a week every week of my life, usually, sometimes more often. And it’s critical that you get everything in the mix and to the right level so everything can be heard. We don’t have a sound guy in my band. We have to do this all ourselves while playing a show and it’s not that hard, so I just don’t get what was going on here. In this production, when it’s just Guy (Barry DeBois) and his guitar, it’s exquisite, but as soon as other moving parts are added in, you start getting things that shouldn’t be that loud being too loud. The piano in nearly all cases was drowning out vocals and Topol doesn’t have that heavy a touch, it’s a sound issue. I hope they get it fixed.
Because the cast was absolutely killing it. Everyone was perfection, from the principals to the secondary parts to the ensemble. Everyone is a multi-instrumentalist, everyone has a voice, and everyone was bringing it every moment they were on stage.
The plot roughly follows that of the movie, with a Guy (Barry DeBois) musician on the edge of hanging it up forever due to a breakup with his girlfriend (Jenn Chandler) who has moved to New York. Girl ( Tiffany Topol) overhears him singing, sees his despair and cajoles him to play music for her. Then she plays music for him.
Within just a few days, they’ve met each other’s friends and families, gotten a loan to go to a recording studio, and recorded a demo album of his songs which he is planning to take to New York. They’ve also fallen in love. But both of them are still committed to previous relationships, and ultimately, those relationships prevail. They part ways, but both of them are changed forever by the experience with each other. Both have renewed their hope. But it’s sad because you can see they are really meant for each other musically at the very least.
There are a few minor differences in the stage version as to how they get from meet cute with vacuum cleaner to recording studio, but that doesn’t really matter. It does involve far more memorable characters, notably Billy (John Patrick Penick) the music shop owner, and Reza (Cassidy Sturtz) Girl’s roommate, Svec (Grant Alan Watkins) as another roommate and Andrej (Nik Kmiecik) who gets us all invested in his desire to become Burger King manager. And the major change is really that we are absolutely certain that Guy’s old girlfriend wants him back, which was completely ambiguous in the movie. We just knew he was going to try.
Another music nerd note here, my eyes about rolled about out of my head when Guy said the line about his “old” Martin guitar. When he is CLEARLY playing a brand spanking new Martin DXAE Composite with the extremely bright sound that one might expect out of a composite guitar (above). I’m sure it’s bulletproof for stage use, but that is not by any stretch of the imagination an old guitar. THIS is the actual guitar that is being referred to (with a clear visual as to why pick guards were invented – Right). They should drop the line because it’s just silly. Every guitar on that stage was brand new as Martin Guitars is a show sponsor.
But honestly, that’s a quibble. And even with the poor sound it was still great. You should go out to Aurora at once. The production runs through June 3.
Tickets are available here.
Once production photos by Liz Lauren.