Electric Company Theatre presents Once
now playing at the The Muckenthaler
“Because you live, you have to love.” –Once, the Musical
Have you ever wanted to visit the Emerald Isle? Have you ever wondered what a night in an Irish pub might be like? The Muckenthaler’s uber-talented Resident Theater group, The electrifying Electric Company Theatre, presents a highly anticipated and utterly captivating production of ONCE, the musical, which most definitely rivals Broadway. Step into The Ol’ Muck’n Pub (converted from the Muck’s Gallery space), and you have wandered into the Dublin bar where beer is flowing, folks are clappin’, heels are tappin’, and Irish jigs are filling your hearts with song. From locals to newcomers, the camaraderie in an Irish pub is remarkable, not only because of the company that’s kept but also because the impromptu performances and storytelling folk songs unite people and symbolize the characteristics of its country. Now that you’re settled in and ready for an evening of incredible entertainment, let’s hear more about Once.
Directed by forward-thinking Director Brian Johnson, this deeply felt musical is adapted from a low-budget Irish Indie movie that was written and directed by John Carney and is about two young songwriters who are destined to make music together; however, this “little engine that could” has managed to become a captivating Tony Award-winning musical. In this rendition, there is no stage, no backstage orchestra, no tracks, and no surprise entrances because you are all in the pub together, the actors ARE the musicians, and the immersion of high-spirited actors/musicians and enthusiastic audience members brings a whole new dynamic to a beautifully designed and sentimental work of theater art.
Once is tender, intimate, honest, and raw, and ECT’s production is no less than a sublime piece of musical poetry in motion. Wesley Chavez portrays Guy, a moody, struggling guitarist ready to give up on what he is meant to do – write songs and make music. In walks the sassy immigrant Czech Girl (Mercy Thornton) who pulls no punches with the sullen guy who believes he is destined to live atop his father’s Hoover vacuum repair shop and work with his “Da” forever. Girl, an incredible pianist and songwriter, happens to have a Hoover that needs fixin’. Is it fate?
“Do you enjoy being so serious?” asks Guy.
“I’m always serious; I’m Czech,” Girl responds.
The strength of this incredible production is the cast, the musicianship, the musical instrumentation, and the kinship that this ensemble truly demonstrates from scene to scene. There is something about a production so special that you don’t want it to end – this is that show.
Emily Taylor’s Choreography is a fascinating study of movement from the musicians not running into each other as they move about the set to a piece where guitars are exchanged from actor to actor to a balletic dance that adds its special beauty when called upon.
Musical Director Greg Haake is an immensely important figure in creating ECTs. Once the multiple stringed instruments, piano, accordion, and box drums are heard and seen up close, The musicians must be strategically placed and precisely kept on their toes with each number. The intonation is perfect. While not an operetta, the music tells a great deal of Once’s story, and the musicians are top-notch. The sentimental love song, “Falling Softly,” is so meaningful that it was chosen as a wedding song for ECT Co-founder/Director Brian Johnson and his lovely wife, Callie Prendiville Johnson (also actress/accordion player and Co-founder of ECT, and more).
Shout outs to the entire cast and company for the gift of an incredible live theater experience, and along with the leads, a special mention to Rob Bethancourt (Da – Guitar, Mandolin, Bass), Andrew Border (Andrej – Guitar, Banjo, Bass), Eric Dobson (Billy – Percussion, Guitar), Charlotte Gregor/Lois Hellmuth (Ivonka), James Herrera (Eamon – Keys), Callie Prendiville Johnson (Baruska – Accordion), Sophie Keaney (Reza – Violin), Wyatt Logan (Ensemble), Rebecca McBride (Ex-Girlfriend – Violin, Guitar), Shauna McFadden (Emcee – Guitar, Tin Whistle), Jay Piper (SVEC – Drums, Percussion, Guitar, Keys), Ryan Song (Bank Manager – Cello, Guitar), and Emily Taylor (Ensemble). The production team includes stage manager Camille Vargas, lighting designer Matt Mankiewicz, and scenic designer Brian Johnson.
Muckenthaler Cultural Center 1201 West Malvern Ave, Fullerton, CA 92833
E-mail info@TheMuck.org. Runs through November 22, 2023.