Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's reviews of Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Impact of Shuffle Along and A Raisin in the Sun

Kelsey Brown and Jake Slater
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
On rare occasions, all the magical elements in musical theater come together for an evening of near perfection. It begins with matching the correct show with an outstanding cast who are capable of great harmonies and superb musicianship combined with exceptional lighting and sound reproduction, and even the size of the venue itself.

The newest case in point is the Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program and Beck Center for the Arts collaboration of Enda Walsh, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglov's musical Once, based on the John Carney movie of the same name. This is a production that works well in an intimate setting, and the Mackey Theater is the perfect size to capture the intimacy that this show needs. The show is directed by Victoria Bussert.

The "orchestra" is made up of 14 of the 15 cast members playing everything from guitar to bass, piano, ukulele, mandolin, beat box, fiddle, cello, banjo, melodica and accordion. On top of that, they have some of the sweetest singing harmonies ever heard on stage.

The setting is a struggling record shop/music store in modern day Dublin, Ireland, where itinerant musicians gather from time to time to share their musical craft with each other. Guy (Jake Slater) works nearby for his Da (Rodrigo Torrejón), repairing vacuum cleaners (hence the "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" song). His dreams of fame coming about from his singing and songwriting have been dashed, with his girlfriend moving to New York City six months previously.

After performing the solo "Leave" Guy realizes he is getting nowhere with his music and abandons his guitar on the floor of the record shop. Girl (Kelsey Brown) is a Czech immigrant whose total love of music convinces Guy to first agree to fix her "Hoover sucker" in exchange for her playing him some Felix Mendelssohn. She further convinces him to sing one of his songs for "ten cents euro" and he does "Falling Softly" as a duet with Girl on piano and voice. With subdued lighting (by Steve Shack) as guitar and piano combine with lovely singing voices, it is here that the audience was totally entranced.

Guy takes Girl home to meet his Da and she in return takes him to meet her mother, young daughter Ivanka (her husband is off somewhere but may be returning soon) and an assortment of Czech immigrants who are learning English by watching a popular soap opera. From this meeting, Girl hatches a plan to enlist the aid of all her musical friends to gather and record Guy's songs.

The cast is made up of Kelsey Brown as Girl, Jake Slater as Guy, Eric Graupensperger as Billy, Erin Niebuhr as the Ex-Girlfriend, Rodrigo Torrejón as Da, CJ Garbin as Bank Manager, Gillian Han as Reza, Shelby Griswold as Baruska, Mackenzie Meyh as Emcee, Amalia Beckham as Eamon, Charlie Ray as Andrej, Warren Egypt Franklin as Customer, Piper Bruce as Customer and Marlowe Miller (Thursdays and Fridays) and Brenna Sherman (Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays) as Ivanka.

The real excitement takes place when the entire ensemble kicks up their heals for a series of group songs which are thankfully in abundance. Kelsey Brown and Jake Slater are especially suited as ill-fated star-crossed lovers. You can feel the electricity spark between them. Sound designer Carlton Guc manages to squeak out every ounce of nuance from the occasionally tricky sound system with help from sound mixer Angie Hayes. Special mention must also be made of choreographer Gregory Daniels, musical director Matthew Webb, dance captain Shelby Griswold, Czech dialect Coach Matthew Koenig, and Irish dialect Coach Brennan Murphy.

There are different types of standing ovations in theater. They range from the slow "lets get up and grab our coats and get ready to leave" to the "enthusiastic and unanimous jumping up before the last note is sounded." The cast of Once earned the latter at the performance I attended, as a wildly cheering crowd acknowledged the magnitude of what they had just witnessed.

You simply cannot be made to feel any better than you will when seeing this extraordinary production with its wide range of musical numbers (soft love ballads to rousing dance numbers). The cast is spot on in their acting, singing, musicianship, and dancing skills as they fill the stage with unabashed glee. Feeling under the weather? This is the tonic to cure your mid-winter blahs.

Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program's Once, through February 24, 2019, at Beck Center for the Arts, Mackey Theater, 7801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood OH. Tickets may be purchased online by going to or by calling 216-521-2540.

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