The last weekend marked the closing of Baldwin Wallace’s Tony Award-winning musical production, “Once.”
Once, based on a book by Edna Walsh and a motion picture directed by John Carney, is a story about a struggling Irish street musician about to give up his musical passion until a Czech immigrant comes along and encourages him to pursue his dream.
They ultimately fall in love and make music together, but the ending is unlike most love stories. The musical ends with the male lead going to New York to continue his dream of making music, while the female lead stays behind in Dublin with her family.
“It’s a very mature, adult story that we’re telling,” said Jake Slater, BW music theatre major and lead in Once.
Once is a unique musical, especially performed at the college level, because the actors in the show are also in the orchestra, said Kelsey Anne Brown, BW music theatre major and lead in Once. The whole cast is on stage throughout the entire show, instruments in hand, accompanying leads Slater and Brown.
The show was cast back in August and throughout the entire Fall semester the cast focused solely on the music; not only on learning the music, but some had to learn to play new instruments as well, said Bryan Bowser, chair of the interdisciplinary department in the BW Conservatory.
For many of the cast, they had played instruments in high school, but hadn’t touched the instruments until they heard that BW was going to produce Once. For others, they already had knowledge of an instrument, like guitar, and they had to transfer what they knew about guitar to ukuleles and mandolins, said Brown, making it especially unique for a collegiate production.
“We are the first academic institution in the country to tackle this production,” said Victoria Bussert, director of the BW music theatre program and director of Once, in an interview with Cleveland.com.” Nobody would touch it because of what it requires. The orchestra are the actors, so we had to start music rehearsals for this in September and the entire score has to be memorized by the cast.”
Charlie Ray, associate music director of Once and BW music theatre major, said they largely have their director, Bussert, to thank for the show’s success. He said that, because the show wasn’t big and flashy, like other musicals they’ve done in the past, they were worried how Ohio audiences would react to Once. Bussert went above and beyond, Ray said, to make the show really active and fun for the audience.
“Because of that,” he said, “there were a lot of people that don’t see a lot of theater that were really entranced by that.”
Once the show opened, it was left up to the associate music director, stage manager, and dance captain to run the show, all of whom are BW students.
“It’s kind of unusual for those people to be in charge of the show to also be students,” said Ray.
In a normal musical production, he said, the people controlling the show would be the stage manager, dance coordinator, and conductor. However, because there was no pit orchestra, there was no conductor or music director on site, which left the responsibilities of running the show largely to the students. And the students exceeded expectations, reported Bussert to Cleveland.com.
In a review by Capsule Judgement, the BW/Beck Center production of Once is described as being talent overloaded. They said that their production “rivals the Broadway staging and is much superior to the touring show which was part of the Key Bank Series.”
Bowser said that the show has gotten many super strong reviews, much like the one above. He describes the audience response as being “very warm.” Leads Brown and Slater, and Associate Director Ray agree that the audience responses have been very positive and that the show has been an overall success.