The touring version of Once: The Musical is now in residence at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre through February 15th. Since that’s just up the street from me, I attended their first preview performance on Tuesday night.
I’d forgotten that the play originally began its dramatic life at the American Repertory Theatre (ART) back in Cambridge. It’s not surprising that the play found further success, where ART has successfully repositioned itself over the last few years (under the shrewd leadership of Diane Paulus) as a major feeder of new or reimagined stage work into the Broadway and national theatre conversation.
Of course, Once takes its story from the movie of the same name. If you’ve seen the film, you know the basic story about the Guy meeting the Girl who inspires him to refocus on his songwriting and use his songs to convey his emotions… and that doesn’t change here on the stage. The play does, however, adroitly open up the story to more of an ensemble production, with a modest band starting the experience with pre-show songs and several scenes featuring ensemble members (either in one or multiple roles) interacting with the protagonists.
The play also creatively invites the audience to come more directly into the story, in that drinks are served onstage before the start of the show and during the intermission. My friends and I enjoyed the pre-show option, and I found it to be a fresh and fun way to get into the story, standing onstage for a few minutes with fellow audience members, and then being allowed to stay there for a few more minutes while the cast came onstage and began their pre-show medley.
I can’t say that the story creates a revelatory level of dramatic depth. But I would say that the play is worth attending for its fun and fresh onstage experience, and the chance to take in some very well-done acoustic songs in a refreshingly intimate story setting.
Last weekend I visited Meadow Brook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University for the first time. Their website proudly states, “as Michigan’s largest producing professional theatre, we are committed to bringing the highest quality of entertainment to southeastern Michigan.” The company enjoys a very strong reputation in the local theatre community among patrons and artists, and so I was pleased to finally make it over there for a show. It felt great to be living up to my intention of returning to seeing more live plays in 2015. I’m eagerly looking at ways to turn the theatregoing back into an at least once per week activity.
The play, Things My Mother Taught Me, is a sweet natured look at modern family relationships and how to navigate continued family connections in a media-saturated age. It isn’t a particularly deep script, but there are many “oh yeah my family does that” type of moments that viewers will nod in acknowledgement of. At least that was the case at the performance I attended, with many incidents of laughter and chuckling.
The genial tone followed through into the storyline, where we meet a young couple, Olivia and Gabe, who are completing a quarter-country move from NYC to Chicago. They are joined by BOTH sets of their parents to get them settled in, and inevitably, that complicates matters in simple and detailed ways for everyone in the apartment! But it’s not a spoiler to say that things right themselves in the end, especially for the young lovers. And the show itself “puts a ring on it” with an awesome live Beyonce dance montage that finds all of the cast members having a ton of fun moving around with ease and delight.
The show takes pleasure in the little things of life, both happy (finding a commonality or surprise) and challenging (trying to find a common ground over a disagreement or argument). The capable cast seems to be enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company. And for the audience members, I hope that the show reminds them, with a smile and a raised eyebrow or two, of the joys, eccentricities, challenges and rewards of living a modern life, where you can chose your own adventure but you can’t chose – and you can always embrace – your family.