BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
Since I never caught the 2007 movie “Once” (shame on me), I cannot compare it to the Broadway version that opened on Sunday at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater except to tell you that “Once” is a wistful little charmer in every musical way.
A semi-circular Dublin pub has been built across the stage and before the show starts, viewers can go up there, buy a drink, and mingle among the musical’s dozen performers, who are cheerfully jamming away.
This interactive feature serves to advise the audience that “Once” is not at all an old-style song-and-dance Broadway musical.
John Carney’s screenplay regarding a fleeting romance between a broken-hearted Dublin musician and an intense Czech émigré has been fashioned by playwright Enda Walsh into a fluent script that closely wraps around the glowing music and lyrics provided by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.
Sweetly arranged by Martin Lowe, these dozen or so folksy rock songs – lively, often warmly romantic stuff -- fit the contemporary musical world that these working-class characters inhabit in Dublin.
Their environs are strikingly realized by director John Tiffany (who staged that great “Black Watch” war drama of several seasons ago) in a flowing show where chairs, tables and a piano are deployed by the actors to suggest the story’s many locations within that funky barroom setting.
All of the performers are musicians who play a range of instruments, which underscores the story and lends considerable richness and immediacy to the event.
Staged by Steven Hoggett (who did so well by “American Idiot”), the performers’ movement mixes meaningful gestures with traditional Irish steps and casual dancing. The score, the story, the movement, the visuals and the performances are tightly meshed yet somehow seem wonderfully spontaneous.