Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Sam Sherwood and Katie Barton are superb as the two leading characters, and they are surrounded by a first-rate ensemble who double as both actors and musicians. This works extremely well, with the communal feeling of performers who can't wait to share the story with the audience. Following their recent terrific staging of A Chorus Line, Ivoryton Playhouse's Once should please both newcomers to the show, and those who have seen the musical before.
Even before the lights go down, the stage is alive with energy and boisterous music, as the actors essentially treat the audience to a pre-show hoedown. By the time Sam Sherwood (whose role is just characterized as "Guy") enters, singing the touching opening song "Leave," Once is deeply involving, and it only gets better as it goes along. Katie Barton, as the character of "Girl," arrives onstage soon after and it seems like love at first sight for the central couple. I hate to give too much of the plot away, but Once is a show that takes one on a beautiful journey and it proves to be deeply romantic.
Both leads are pretty much ideal, with Barton bringing a great deal of humor to her role and Sherwood adding a rich source of soulfulness. In essence, these two characters complement each other perfectly, with Guy providing the music that Girl is able to add her words to. Both performers excel at both acting and singing, with the added bonus of Sherwood on the guitar and Barton on piano.
The production has a great deal more to recommend it. On Glenn Bassett's very functional scenic design (basically a wall of doors that are great for quick scene changes), the company of fourteen actors shine, particularly Andreina Kasper as a very funny bank manager, Margaret Dudasik as Reza, and Rachel Mulcahy as Guy's ex-girlfriend. However, all of the actor/musicians work at the same level and they let their individual personalities color and enhance their characters. This is especially lovely in the full company numbers, such as "Gold," which ends the first act.
Once at Ivoryton Playhouse is truly a joy to behold, with fine contributions by Marcus Abbott on lighting and Cully Long supplying the perfect costume design. Eric Anthony also deserves a shout out for his sensational music direction.
But it is the touching work by the two leads that will likely stay with you, with their closing performance of the gorgeous "Falling Slowly" being very moving (remember to bring tissues!). Director Ben Hope clearly knows this show inside and out and he has molded a simply astonishing and deeply felt production.
Once, through October 14, 2018, at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.