‘Once’: A romantic refuge for the holiday season

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal from the ONCE Tour Company ©2015 Joan Marcus

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal from the ONCE Tour Company ©2015 Joan Marcus

BOSTON – Not every musical has to be “Les Miserables” or “Phantom of the Opera.” There is still room for human-sized, smaller works, with the accent on characters, emotions and situations.

So welcome to the national touring production of the musical “Once,” now at the Citi Performing Arts Center’s Shubert Theatre.

Once” arrived on Broadway without the hype of most shows and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 2012, winning eight, including Best Musical.

It is one of the more romantic theater pieces in recent memory, be it straight play or musical, based on the Oscar-winning 2007 film written and directed by John Carney, but it is not a conventional love story – perhaps that’s a big part of its attraction.

It is the story of Dublin resident Guy (Stuart Ward), a street musician and songwriter by choice and by night and a vacuum repairman most of the time, working with his widowed father (Scott Waara) in a shop below their apartment.

Into his life walks a Czech immigrant (Dani de Waal), a piano player (who doesn’t own a piano) who loves music – and especially Guy’s emotional and raw music, much of which has to do with his mourning the end of his relationship with a woman who has since moved to New York.

Over a week, their friendship and musical partnership will become something deeper – a complicated love story with several angles and distractions, including The Girl’s family situation, which includes a daughter and a husband not currently in the picture.

And while Guy and The Girl are actors/musicians, so are the entire ensemble cast. There’s some strong local connections on this tour. Erica Spyres lit up Greater Boston stages in recent years, and here she plays Guy’s ex-girlfriend, and, as with every cast member, has musical responsibilities on the violin and percussion.

Matt DeAngelis, a native of Boxford and a graduate of Masconomet Regional High, has some very funny moments as an over-caffeinated enthusiastic Czech performer named Svec, who takes his turn on guitar, mandolin, banjo, drum set and percussion and at one point channels his inner rock god.

Evan Harrington is Billy, the owner of the music shop whose help and cooperation is vital to Guy’s dreams, basks in the glow of his assignation with one of The Girl’s Czech friends that helps grease the skids towards the recording session Guy desperately wants.

Jon-Alex MacFarlane is the Bank Manager who also helps Guy along, but also imagines himself a world-class musician and whose presence draws the ire of Billy and threatens the studio sessions.

The score is a stirring collection of tunes, including the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly,” which has carried over from the film, and “Gold” is another lovely ballad, and the voices are lovely from the top down.

If you’ve ever had a hankering to find yourself on stage in Boston, be advised that the bar that is a part of Bob Crowley’s Tony Award-winning set is indeed a working bar, and you’re invited on stage before the show and during intermission to purchase a drink.

The elegant direction is by John Tiffany, who helmed ART’s production of “The Glass Mengerie” that transferred to Broadway, with evocative low-key lighting by Natasha Katz and artfully-crafted sound design by Clive Goodwin. “Once” is lovely to look at and listen to.

Once” is a romantic, relaxing, heartfelt refuge from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Sit back and enjoy a different kind of love story.

The national touring production of “Once.” Book and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney. Directed by John Tiffany. Book by Enda Walsh. Scenic and costume design by Bob Crowley. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Sound design by Clive Goodwin. Music supervision and arrangements by Martin Lowe. Movement by Steven Hoggett. At the Shubert Theatre through Dec. 27. http://www.citicenter.org.

Matt DeAngelis, center, in green pants, and the ONCE Tour Company ©2015 Joan Marcus

Matt DeAngelis, center, in green pants, and the ONCE Tour Company ©2015 Joan Marcus

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