pc: Dave Smithson
Written by Patrick Chavis
Ken said it in the Barbie movie, and it’s the first word I thought of after stepping out of the Electric Company Theatre’s latest production.
Once is a musical centered around Guy, an Irish musician and Hoover technician played by Wesley Chavez, and Girl, played by Mercy Thornton, a Czech piano-playing mother. They live in Dublin, Ireland and help each other through friendship, music, and, dare I say it, love.
Once is a love story, but it’s not a typical love story. I think that’s what makes it special. It explores all kinds of different love. No disrespect to When Harry Met Sally, which is a classic I love, and it will always be a repeat movie for me as long as I’m around. However, Harry, platonic male-female friendships can exist even with attraction. I’m not saying it’s easy, and neither are the people in Once. I was impressed that it’s a unique, nuanced, adult take on relationships and love: the beauty, the passion, the narcissism, and selfishness of it all. The phrase “follow your heart” isn’t always so simple.
I think Director Brian Johnson understands this story from the core. It’s an intimate story, and he found a way to make it even more intimate at the Muck in Fullerton. This was a master class in blocking. They used this space so effectively. The lighting design from Matt Mankiewicz sings in this small circular room. The space was vibrant and alive with great musicians and music, and the detail of mood and rhythm timed with the lighting. Sublime! There was not a bare place on the set. It was a tapestry of light and artistry. If that’s not enough, close your eyes. The singing from this ensemble is impeccable, and the space sounded incredible.
The whole production wasn’t acoustic. There was an electric bass, but the majority of the instrumentation in this show was acoustic. The band was tight, and it was exhilarating, being only a few feet away from the players. The music and acting seemed to have a good flow, and I was particularly impressed with the cello playing by Ryan Song. His playing added so much body and lower end to the music. It was quite lovely.
Not only is she a lovely singer, but Mercy Thorton’s piano playing sounded gorgeous. She is a true talent. I don’t think anyone with an ear could have left that performance and not felt something after she opened her mouth. It was exceptional.
Wesley Chavez’s demeanor was confident and strong, but in the sad, darker moments when he was off to the side, you could see the heartbreak. Chavez is a brave vocalist who is not afraid to move out of his vocal comfort zone, and it was a pleasure to watch him perform.
An intimate night of music that’s not to be missed if you can get a ticket.