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Lamb's Players Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of The Squirrels

Michael Louis Cusimano and Catie Grady
Photo by Ken Jacques
If they are to succeed, stage adaptations of musical movies need to capture the spirit of the original, while also featuring elements that create a fresh experience. The Tony Award-winning musical Once does this by following the plot of the 2007 motion picture, retaining most of the songs, and featuring a script by Enda Walsh that expands the scope of the story. Lamb's Players Theatre's summer production, staged by the director of Educational Outreach Kerry Meads, presents a beautiful, unusual and romantic narrative. Coronado's intimate theatre setting is an ideal venue for the realistic, moving and subtle show. It's no surprise that the original run has been extended to August 12.

In Dublin, a kind and angst-filled street musician/vacuum cleaner repairman, known only as Guy (Michael Louis Cusimano), still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend (Abigail Allwein). After hearing him perform one of his songs, a Czech immigrant, known only as Girl (Catie Grady), immediately becomes a fan and asks him to fix her broken vacuum cleaner. Soon after meeting, they sing a song that draws them closer to each other, leading to a complex relationship that leaves an impact on both of their lives.

An aspect that becomes apparent shortly after the tale begins is humor added for the stage. The film had several funny moments, and in the stage production, a majority of scenes feature at least a couple of lines of hilarious dialogue. A lot of this has to do with Girl's interactions with Guy and others. Despite her stating that she is a very serious person, Girl's restrained presence masks a playful sense of humor. Equally funny are the other Europeans, such as the karate-loving piano store owner Billy (Manny Fernandes), Girl's affectionate mother Baruska (Associate Artistic Director and Director of Patron Services Deborah Gilmour Smyth), and an aspiring artist who happens to be a bank manager (James Michael McHale). They add to a lived-in environment created by Meads and the crew.

From the moment audiences enter the theatre, they are transported to an Irish pub, brought to life by set designer Sean Fanning. During the pre-show, performers sing and play traditional Irish songs and dance to some uplifting choreography by Colleen Kollar Smith. The high energy created by Meads from the opening continues throughout the performance. She directs the dialogue in a manner such that theatregoers might occasionally feel like they are intruding on private conversations. Fanning's bar setting is used to vividly represent different locations, such as Guy and his Da's (Kent Brisby) apartment, the repair shop where he works, and a recording studio. Just as visually effective is Nathan Peirson's lighting. He's able to visually alter the mood and atmosphere depending on the location.

Each performer brings emotional truth to both Walsh's book and the songs by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Playing their own instruments, the company sings, acts and dances with deep sincerity in musical numbers such as "Gold," "If You Want Me" and "When Your Mind's Made Up." However, it is the relationship between Guy and Girl that carries a lot of the plot. Cusimano on guitar and Grady on piano share a touching and soulful duet, "Falling Slowly," and are charming in many one-on-one discussions. Various problems get in the way of Guy and Girl's growing love for each other, yet Cusimano and Grady's fine performances make the audience empathize with their struggles.

Another powerful element of Walsh's script is that it is both a tale about human connection and a tribute to citizens of Ireland. Early on, the men and women in Dublin are depicted as ordinary citizens with typical day-to-day lives. As events unfold, however, they are able to show artistic sides of themselves. Seeing people such as Guy, Girl, the bank manager, Billy, and Girl's roommates Andrej (Luke Monday) and Svec (Arusi Santi) bonding together through music is inspiring to witness.

On par with its source material, Meads' version of the musical drama doesn't skimp on powerful moments and haunting melodies. Lamb's first big musical of 2018 is nothing short of moving.

Once, through August 12, 2018, at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado CA. Performances are Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $28.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 619-437-6000.