Written by 3:42 am Electric Company Theatre, Review, Theater, Uncategorized

The Electric Company Theatre presents: Once @ Muckenthaler Cultural Center – Review

Image credit: Warner Bros

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.


Story :

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.

When Harry Met Sally

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.

Exceptional Show! OCR Recommended! Nov 6 -22,2023.
9.4 Overall
9.8 Users (1 vote)
Set & Design9
What people say... 1 Leave your rating
For "ONCE" in my life...
How do you start writing about a production that not only stops your heart, but causes it to beat wildly?
A show that inspires and causes regret for not having more actively pursued one's love of theatre?

"Once," as produced by The Electric Company Theatre is perfectly Wow.
I have seen the film. This was better.

The cast - every single member - understood the assignment and drew the audience in. Breaking the 4th wall has never been so delicious. But, it was more like a peak through a crack in the 4th wall, not a full-on break or tumbling down, like Jericho.

The audience was captured and transported to a place of enlightenment by a young, but very wise, Mercy Thorton, who plays the lead female role as it should always have been played - with humor, grace, timing, and the perfect amount of acerbic wit to demand respect and attention.
As "Girl," Ms. Thorton brought it all.

And if she brought it all - Wesley Chavez brought more than all and left it on the floor to mix with the dust of actors past.
His tormented "Guy" can no longer hide - because he doesn't want to. We ached for him, cried for him, and knew that "Girl" had made the right choice, as painful as it was - he knew it, too. Mr. Chavez artfully exposed his pain, and deliverance from that pain, through his vocals and guitar playing - never losing character or charm.

The rest of this incredibly talented cast lays a story at your feet, ringing in your ears, like no other.

The direction is spot on and, I think, the best I've seen from Brian Johnson. Most notable is the use of "light" - a most unforgettable character in this production, in and of itself.
Mr. Johnson was able to squeeze the perfect juice from the space and his cast.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Callie Prendiville Johnson, Co-Artistic Director with Brian Johnson. She played Girl's Mother, broken but strong, and she also the accordion! She learned the accordion, specifically for this show. The brokenness - just on the edges, in even the lifts of a child, was there.

I am emotional, just writing these brief remarks. And I now live with the regret that I didn't purchase more tickets for more nights.

If this show is an indication of ECT's commitment to quality, continued success is in their footlights.

Do not miss future productions by this talented team.
November 14, 2023, 7:54 pm
Set & Design10
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