ONCE: Embracing those little moments of salvation

Alison Russo and Nile Hawver in Once. (Photo: Erin X. Smithers)

The Wilbury Theatre Group presents the Tony Award-winning musical Once, with book by Irish Playwright Enda Walsh, featuring music/lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. This production is directed by Josh Short, with music direction by Milly Massey. The cast features Nile Hawver and Alison Russo in the roles of Guy and Girl, and an ensemble of actor / musicians including Chelsea AubertZan BerryJose DocenGalen Donovan, Grace Graham, Maggie HallLeola HoganColette (Coco) HogueTeddy LytleVince PetronioJason Quinn, Dave RabinowTessa Sacramone, Claudia TraubFlorence Wallis, and Am WyckoffOnce ponders the mysteries of music and love via romantic folk-rock ballads and an ensemble that shares the stage, with performers playing their various instruments throughout. Songs include the Oscar-winning Falling Slowly, matching the feel of this achingly beautiful, joyously uplifting show that’s as honest and sincere as it is comical.

In the streets of Dublin, a vacuum repairman (Hawver) moonlights as a street musician, still harboring thoughts of a love lost (Sacramone) who has moved on to America. He’s about to give up on his dream of catching his big break, when he has a chance meeting with a Czech woman (Russo) who earns a living selling flowers. The pair are drawn together by their shared love of music. Over the course of one fateful week, he becomes enthralled by her optimism, and they spend time together making music while falling in love. The working-class minstrels share a bond as they are alike in many ways — both misfit musicians looking for artistic and personal fulfillment in their lonely lives. Their collaboration has them fortuitously composing songs that reflect their blossoming love. Adding to the spell is the fact that Russo and Hawver harmonize perfectly.

Nile Hawver and Alison Russo in Once. (Photo: Erin X. Smithers)

Russo gives a shining performance, allowing us to feel the love, joy and alas, heartache this piece brings. “This show requires a heightened level of focus, which is easy to maintain because none of us truly exit the playing space and we’re all watching the action, invested, and in full support of one another,” says Russo. “The characters in this story come together because of the shared love of music, and when we as an ensemble can really lock in and just enjoy playing together, the story and the music can really soar. Of course, we all wear a lot of hats in this production — actors, singers, musicians — so the energy and concentration levels required of us are perhaps greater than in other shows, but when we pull off that balancing act, it’s exhilarating.”


Russo’s Czech accent is spot on throughout. All other cast members speak in foreign accents too, which may sometimes come and go, but this just adds to the comic relief. Delivering many of the laughs is Rabinow (bank manager) with his hilarious expressions, mannerisms, and musical whimsy. It’s also a delight to watch second-grader “Coco” Hogue (Ivanka), who doesn’t say much but charms with a smile and captivates with just a stare.

The cast of Once. (Photo: Erin X. Smithers)

Scenic designer Monica Shinn has created a non-distracting set in which pieces move seamlessly around and become part of the dance. Ali Kenner Brodsky should be applauded for her choreography skills there. You’ll love this production — but bring tissues. You’re sure to laugh as much as you cry. 

Once runs through June 23. Duration is about 2 hours with a 10-minute intermission. For more information, visit