'Once' Brings Music to Center Stage

Austin’s ZACH Theatre is continuing to bring top quality talent to the Topfer stage with the eight-time Tony Award®-winning musical “Once,” based on the 2007 Academy Award®-winning film of the same name by John Carney. This modern romance tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together through a mutual love for music and happenstance as they cultivate a romance driven by the music they make together.

 Corbin Mayer as Guy and Olivia Nice as Girl in ZACH Theatre’s production of “Once.” Photo by Kirk Tuck

Corbin Mayer as Guy and Olivia Nice as Girl in ZACH Theatre’s production of “Once.” Photo by Kirk Tuck

Guy (Corbin Mayer) is a Dubliner who makes a living working for his father, Da (Scotty Roberts) in his repair shop, but moonlights as a musician in his personal time. When we first meet him, he has decided to play his guitar for the last time — that is until he’s approached by a beautiful, young Czech woman, Girl (Olivia Nice). After an awkward exchange, the two agree to meet again so that Guy can fix Girl’s vacuum that “does not suck” and Girl will play music for him in exchange. Throughout the show, we learn more and more about the two disenchanted musicians; Guy is forlorn over an ex girlfriend now living in New York, and Girl is a somewhat-single mother living in a crowded home with other quirky characters. Over the course of a few days, music thrusts the two into a romance that could only be told through song.

 The cast of Zach Theatre’s production of “Once.” Photo by Kirk Tuck

The cast of Zach Theatre’s production of “Once.” Photo by Kirk Tuck

I think Donald Eastman took a unique direction with the set design for this production. It’s somewhat minimalist, with a ceiling created from vintage Irish posters and a floor made to look more like a ceiling from the era, with antique tiling and vintage bulbs and some light greenery. It all comes together to create a frame for the performance, capturing the combined visions of director Dave Steakley and choreographer Cassie Abate. Each scene flows smoothly, with visible choreography for the scene changes as well, enhanced by the fact that the cast serves as the orchestra. This means that down time is scarce for each individual, but it pays off for in the audience’s favor. The music is top tier across the board. The vocal range isn’t as straining as other productions ZACH has put forth this season, which is a relief because you’ll want to sing them over and over long after the show. I’m particularly impressed with the detail given to regional accents, thanks to the efforts of Amanda Cooley Davis. I won’t bore you with the details of understanding characteristics of regional dialects, so trust me when I say they nailed it.

 Ben Hulan as Billy with Ginna Doyle as Reza in ZACH Theatre’s production of “Once.” Photo by Kirk Tuck

Ben Hulan as Billy with Ginna Doyle as Reza in ZACH Theatre’s production of “Once.” Photo by Kirk Tuck

The cast is impressive through and through. Mayer does well as the leading male, with a strong chin and a strong voice. Olivia Nice brings a lovely quirk to Girl, truly bringing the character to life. Standouts in supporting roles would have to be Ginna Doyle as Reza, bringing the sexy and spunky attitude to the the stage and Anya Gibian who provides a source of humor as the bank manager who doesn’t quite see eye-to-eye with Ben Hulan in the role of Billy, the owner of the music store where much of the fun takes place. Hulan does well with comedic timing, adding a certain lightness to any scene he’s in.

Once is yet another success in the books for ZACH Theatre, and audiences will be pleased to check this one out while it’s in production through October 28. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one get an extended run.

Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set including writing, design, and photography. Nick now resides in Austin, TX after earning a degree in Mass Communication with an emphasis on journalism from Texas A&M University—Commerce.