‘Once The Musical’ at the Fabulous Fox an immersive experience

| Music Editor

It’s a surreal experience to be ushered onto a live stage just as a show is set to begin. Yet, the smiling crew of “Once The Musical” was happily helping its audience onto the main stage Friday night for a pint.

“Once,” the 2012 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, follows the story of two artists trying to make it in Dublin, Ireland. The entire show takes place in an Irish pub, on a cramped set littered with chairs and mirrors. Being on stage, with your back to the audience, you can almost imagine you’re really in a crowded bar. Members of the cast serve drinks from the pub counter and wipe up any spills, completely in character. Others play their instruments in the center of a group of audience members, stamping their feet and singing loudly. At the end of their song, the cast swaps instruments and goes again. It wasn’t until the third song that the stragglers still on the main stage realized the show had already started.

By the time the last bits of the audience got the cue to leave the set, the actors had already been through four songs. When the leading man took center stage to play the official opening number, the rest of the cast collapsed in the pub chairs to watch along with the audience. The next two hours passed in a hasty, but graceful, whirlwind of different musical styles, dancing and a dynamic love story. “Once” doesn’t wrap up in a nice bow like most musicals but instead forgoes audience satisfaction for the realism of real, complicated relationships.

The real magic of “Once” doesn’t come from the storyline, but from the awe-inspiring musical talents of the cast. Some characters played as many as five instruments over the course of the show, all while singing, dancing and acting. The film that the show was adapted from won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and that legacy remains in the show. Unlike in a conventional musical, the songs from “Once” don’t narrate the moment but rather are all believable original compositions. The show soundtrack could be a standard Irish folk album, if you didn’t know any better. Several first-time audience members were happily mouthing along to the show’s most famous song, “Falling Slowly,” before the actors even finished the first refrain.

“Once” is a special musical, as the songs of the show inform the plot, instead of the plot informing the songs. The important part of the experience is the artists and their music, not so much the characters and their stories. The main characters aren’t even given names, full backgrounds aren’t revealed and nobody truly gets a happy ending. The product is the music and the feeling of inclusion that is maintained for the audience, even after they leave the stage.