‘Once’ Hoists a Happy Beer on Broadway: Jeremy Gerard

Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in ``Once'' in New York. The play is directed by John Tiffany. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Brimming with charm, “Once” has made a smooth transition from downtown to Times Square.

The spell takes hold right away when, entering the theater, we’re invited onstage to hoist one with the actors at a working bar.

In one key area, this engaging musical has even improved. Cristin Milioti -- whose Czech emigre emerges from nowhere to kick start the career and life of depressed street musician Steve Kazee -- has toned down the cliche cutesiness. She’s captivating.

The change is enough to draw the role closer to the young woman played by Marketa Irglova in the film of the same name, which was kinda sorta based on the true tale of her romance and songwriting partnership with Glen Hansard.

The film cost $100,000 to make and took in more than $20 million at the box office, making it an indie legend. And its most powerful song, “Falling Slowly,” won the 2007 Oscar for best original song.

When the show opened in December at the New York Theatre Workshop, I wrote, “Like most of the music in this stage adaptation, ‘Falling Slowly’ has never sounded more ethereally resonant. As Guy and Girl, Kazee and Milioti are perfect vocal complements. Whenever they’re joined by the rest of this remarkable ensemble, the music is gorgeous.”

I quibbled that the show occasionally careers into Tweeland and that choreographer Steven Hoggett’s “movement” resembles a parody of modern dance.

Bob Crowley

That’s all still true. And if the ubiquity of very expensive Martin guitars among this ragtag bunch seems odd, odder still is the gratuitous plug for them in the script.

But director John Tiffany and his extraordinary designers Bob Crowley (set and costumes) and Natasha Katz (lighting) suffuse the show with authenticity as do the exceptionally talented actor/musicians onstage.

Happily, “Once” remains a rare combination of intelligence, warmth and musicality.

At the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)

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