Lamb’s Players Theatre takes on challenge of intimate, intricate musical ‘Once’

A decade ago, Kerry Meads fell fast for “Falling Slowly,” and for the bittersweet film musical that birthed the song.

“I fell in love with the movie when it first came out,” the director and Lamb’s Players associate artistic chief says of catching “Once” at a 2007 preview screening here.

“The story did not go where a love story normally goes, and I so appreciated that. It feels like real life. It definitely is not Disney.”

Where “Once” went after its sleeper movie success — which included an Oscar win for “Falling Slowly” in 2008 — was to Broadway, where its 2012 stage adaptation promptly earned eight Tony Awards, including best musical.

And now the show lands here for its very first local non-touring production, which Meads is directing for Lamb’s.

It’s a big deal for the Coronado theater, not in the least because it’s a show that asks so much of its cast: The actors play all the instruments, and several must play more than one.

The musical, built around the songs from the movie by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (who also starred in the film), centers on a dispirited and lovelorn street musician and the Czech pianist he meets in Dublin.

That might seem the setup for a seen-it-before romantic saga, but “Once” doesn’t really go there — it’s as much a story of torn allegiances and real-life complications and the tension between friendship and courtship as it is about love.

“Once” is loosely situated in a Dublin pub that also serves as other locations. Part of the charm of the Broadway production was that audience members could step up to the onstage “bar” before the show to mingle with the actors as they practiced their music, and Lamb’s is adopting that practice as well.

“Just to be in the midst of that was magical,” Meads says of getting onstage before a Broadway performance. “I think it’s a really important part of the show that sets up a sense of community.”


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Meads’ production stars Michael Louis Cusimano and Caitie Grady, whose characters are known only as “Guy” and “Girl.” The rest of the cast for the most part stays onstage even when a scene is happening only between those two. (The full ensemble numbers 14 actor-musicians, about half of whom are newcomers to Lamb’s.)

“It’s an intimate little relationship and show, and yet the entire cast is like an extension of the Guy and the Girl, of their hearts and emotions and what music does (to them),” as Meads describes it.

The stage adaptation, she adds, “is so true in translating the purity and honesty of the movie, and really keeping the simplicity of it.

“It’s a really pure piece.”


When: Previews begin Friday. Opens June 8. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through July 22.

Where: Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado

Tickets: $28-$78 (discounts available)

Phone: (619) 437-6000


Twitter: @jimhebert