reThe Arlinghurst Eternity Theater is named after Arthur Stace. He was the building cleaner in the 1930s when it was the Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle, and he was so inspired by the sermons that he felt called to write the word “eternity” again. and again on the trails around Sydney. He did this for decades, so determined was he to awaken his city and its people to love and redemption.
Maybe then Eternity is the perfect home for Once: the soft-spoken, deeply felt musical about the forces of human connection that compels us to reach out and hold on to a dear life. It’s a place for the soul, for the heart, and Once is about people who need their souls to be healed. Our main characters are “stopped” – depressed, stuck in a moment, unable to move on. Until they get moving.
First immortalized in the 2007 film of the same name, written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who perform together as Swell Season, the musical made its Broadway debut in 2011 and won eight Tony Awards. . Richard Carroll’s Australian production debuted in 2019, a gem among musical theater’s most exuberant cousins. He returned home two years and a pandemic later with open arms and a 21-week tour ahead, filled with small venues offering the gift of intimacy. That’s what this musical needs: it works better if you get close to it.
From the entrance, proposals place us inside the story: mulled wine near the door, new signs in the foyer that welcome us in an old-style Irish pub. Even the bar wears its own costume. An Irish band plays folk songs. It is the sweetest form of immersion, a space between reality and a new fictional world.
On stage, Hugh O’Connor’s production design is warm and earthy, with wooden boxes and benches making up most of the non-instrumental props; Peter Rubie’s lights create a dimension – dismal darkness, hopeful rays of light. Swinging doors and a window offer the promise of forward momentum.
The story begins with a Heartbroken Guy (Toby Francis), who sang one last song on the streets of Dublin, preparing to leave his guitar, and possibly the world, behind. Then he meets a girl (Stefanie Caccamo). She sees the guy’s pain, recognizes something all her own in it, and offers him a lifeline they both need. Two bruised hearts in a city of poets, their connection unfolds into something beautiful and necessary – and utterly impossible (it only lasts five days).
Most musicals are headed for a happy ending; Once understands that not all romances end well, or even start at all. Instead, it’s a love story about feeling something new and nourishing – breaking through the numbness and stasis in order to grow taller.
The most dated aspect of the show is its story structure, which positions the girl primarily as a savior of the guy and only later as a complicated character in her own right, but her music – where a heart’s heart still lies. musical – never decreases its. It also helps that Caccamo is unmistakably the star of this production; her ironic intelligence and amazing voice express emotion like a card, making the girl feel very real and very human.
Francis’s Guy is gruff and miserable, a little less emotionally accessible than the Girl, but his glorious tenor and subtle mastery of timing make him an excellent partner for Caccamo. This Guy is also a product from the early 2000s; he thinks more of his own pain than that of the girl, but when they finally understand each other – and understand that their connection cannot last – he meets her then. It might make you cry.
Carroll’s production has matured since its first season into a self-confident, music-focused production. His humor is well judged, with Carroll’s love for the wide range being directed primarily towards Drew Livingston’s bank manager, who thinks he’s a bard. It is a welcome relief to laugh and laugh out loud, and this great outlet seems to have given Carroll welcome restraint; he trusts the vulnerabilities and emotional revelations of the characters to carry the rest of the series, letting their jokes – and there are a lot of them – play smaller and more real. It’s a welcome new dimension.
The few moments that seem to drag and flounder don’t last – the music, Irish folk mixed with flaming chants, is always there to save them. The cast is also the group, and musical director Victoria Falconer, who plays the role of Reza, has built a generous and shimmering musical universe, whose clarity is rightly prioritized by the sound design of Dylan Robinson.
In the music, hearts soar and as the actors make their way through the show, movement director Amy Campbell asks them to create a moving symphony – a violin on roller skates, guitars in formation, a mandolin and a cello emerging from the shadows.
Ultimately, it’s the music – and the way it speaks the language of our feelings – that saves the guy and the girl, and that just might crack something in you too.