Reviewed by Tatum Stafford
I’m sure most of those in attendance on opening night of Once would agree that this breathtakingly beautiful production, which first premiered in Sydney in 2019, was well worth the wait. This show is musical theatre at its best; powerful, emotive, stunning and filled with gorgeous music that theatregoers of all ages can enjoy and relate to.
Presented as a collaboration between Black Swan State Theatre Company and Darlinghurst Theatre Company (where it originally premiered), Once has a simple premise. Guy meets girl, both are whisked into each other’s lives and communities, and both share an undeniable chemistry that is brought out in what is commonly believed to be the universal language: music. Their story exists in a vacuum (pun intended, for those who have seen the show), and is set against the whimsical and heart-warming backdrop of a bar and a music shop in Dublin, Ireland.
The show is a prime example of a true ensemble piece of theatre. Though the set appears quite static at first, the cast weave around chairs, roll set pieces in and out (including a piano, which is very central in the show) and interact with one another – all whilst playing a number of different instruments, and in one cast member’s case, on rollerskates. There were audible gasps in the audience in certain moments, as cast members picked up their third or fourth different instrument of the night, or mastered moments of physical comedy without missing a beat of the music they are so proficiently playing. It was such a fantastic feat of talent to witness.
Musical director Victoria Falconer is an absolute star on stage in the role of Réza, and has clearly worked tirelessly off stage to coordinate and facilitate the gorgeous ambience that this group of performers produces with their voices and various instruments. It was such a joy to watch her light up the stage – it’s uncommon to find the set changes some of the most exciting and electric moments of a musical, but seeing Victoria’s energetic passion in these moments was a big highlight.
The show’s leading players, Stefanie Caccamo (Girl) and Toby Francis (Guy) were nothing short of phenomenal. They had incredible chemistry when together, and were equally as captivating when apart. This is Stefanie’s second performance with Black Swan (she was a standout in their 2020 production of Oklahoma!), and it’s clear that Perth audiences have major respect and admiration for her powerful and gorgeous voice. It was great to see her flex her comedic chops in this role. Toby’s voice was incredibly raw and sounded fantastic within the Regal’s acoustics.
Amongst the ensemble, Pavan Kumar Hari provided some fantastic comic relief as the cheerful Svec, Gus Noakes was a compelling and lovable Bank Manager, Rupert Reid gave Girl’s co-worker Billy plenty of heart and conviction, and Abe Mitchell was hilarious as the down-on-his-luck Andre. Luke Hewitt, Jennifer Trijo, Alec Steedman, Patrick Schnur and Deidre Khoo rounded out the phenomenal ensemble with boundless energy and tons of stage presence. Every time the entire cast filled the stage and music started, there was a palpable sense that something special was about to happen in the following song. Big props should be given to the male quintet who performed the gorgeous acapella “Gold (Reprise)”, and to the entire cast for the closing rendition of “Falling Slowly (Reprise)” which was buoyant, hopeful and full of spirit.
The entire creative team should be commended for this fantastic work. Richard Carroll’s directorial vision is inspired, Movement Director Amy Campbell has produced some incredible work in this unique and stunning staging, Set & Costume Designer Hugh O’Connor has created the world of Once with incredible detail and precision, Lighting Designer Peter Rubie creates some beautiful moments (there is one specific point in act two where two blue, subtly moving spotlights make an incredible impact), and Sound Designer Dylan Robinson protects the haunting quality of the show’s fantastic score.
It is such a treat to welcome this production from New South Wales after the last few years of COVID-related travel restrictions, and it’s clear that productions of this quality don’t come around every day. I urge you to snap up a ticket, as this will no doubt be remembered as one of the best shows in Perth this year.
Image Credit: Daniel J Grant