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Kiran Gupta reviews Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Once at Eternity Playhouse.
Over the last two decades or so, there has been a marked increase in movie musicals as film producers scramble to adapt the latest (or classic) Broadway showstopper to the big screen. It is somewhat rarer to see a movie adapted into a musical. Once is one of those exceptions. Starting off with a budget of €112,000 from the Irish Film Board, the film turned into a sensation, receiving critical acclaim, box office success and Grammy and Academy Award nominations. With a beautiful score behind it, it was always going to be turned into a musical.
Like most theatre companies at the moment, Darlinghurst Theatre Company has had some bad luck through the pandemic. After running Once to huge success in 2019, they booked a return season last year which was, of course, cut short by the pandemic. Thus, as a second return season, the pressure was well and truly on the company to deliver. And they did. I’m not one for hyperbole, but this truly was one of the most tight, cohesive and emotional shows I have ever seen. But why? What made this show better for me than, say Moulin Rouge, or some of the other big budget shows around at the moment? One word: precision.
The storyline of Once is moving but subtle. If you’re looking for a bombastic musical with death, war and destruction a la Les Mis, this isn’t the place to go looking. As a result, the cast had a relatively challenging job from the outset in keeping the audience interested and engaged with the story. This was impeccably done from the outset with Toby Francis pulling all the focus to the stage with a rousing opening number. The atmosphere was maintained effectively through the ensemble, who had to do everything in this show, from playing the instruments to acting as crew to shifting in character every few scenes. It would be easy for something to go wrong. But it didn’t. They were so well-rehearsed that every transition was seamless. It made a huge difference to the enjoyment of the show – it really made it feel as though a story was unfolding before your very eyes rather than simply attending a show.
Even with all that said, there was one true star of the show: Stefanie Caccamo. Taking on the lead role, she did so with finesse and absolute poise all throughout. Her rendition of “If You Want Me” was chill-inducing, layered with emotion and decadent power. Every time she was on stage, she drew focus with a powerful, amusing yet sensitive performance. While the whole cast was brilliant, her performance in particular was a highlight.
This was a musical that had attention to detail completely nailed. Even Richard Carroll and his team’s most subtle directing choices were brilliant. From the moment the audience walked into the theatre, some of the cast were playing on the stage which really added to the ambiance. Then, when the show commenced, the audience was immediately surrounded by the cast singing from all around the auditorium. A subtle direction but a very nice touch. The cast acting as the orchestra on stage was also fabulous and made the performance feel a lot more intimate.
This was one of those performances where you left wanting more. While the ending of the show is intentionally unsatisfying and is left unresolved, it leaves the audience reflecting on the show as they leave the theatre. And the more I reflected on the show, the more I realised how amazing it was. Everything melded together so well in seamless harmony, it was spectacular. Without a doubt, it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in Sydney. This is a show that should be sold out for every night of its run, and one that every theatre-lover should go see. The intricacies are next level and words can’t really do it justice – you have to see it to truly appreciate it. One thing is certainly for sure, I will be back again. I overheard many in the audience saying they were back for a fourth or fifth time and I for one don’t want to regret not seeing this show again before it closes in mid-August. This is not one to miss.
Once is playing at the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst until 14th August. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.
Image: Supplied (Photographer: Robert Catto)