Unfinished Love – a review of “Once”

by Claire DeMarco, ‘Burgh Vivant 

Guy (Stuart Ward) is an Irish musician, creating music and playing at a Dublin pub.  The Girl* (Esther Stilwell), a Czech immigrant and the mother of Ivanka (Lauren Ivory Vail), is taken with Guy’s music, and begins a conversation with him.  Both love music but their connection begins when Girl discovers that Guy’s day job is repairing sweepers in his father’s shop. And surprise! The Girl has a Hoover that needs fixed.

*Note:  We never get their real names, they’re just –  the Guy and the Girl.

Guy’s life is consumed with music but he’s lost his enthusiasm.  His girlfriend left him to pursue her dreams across the pond. Girl is entranced by his music but at the same time understands his low spirits.  She is able to encourage and cajole him out of his depression.

Girl drives the friendship, pushing Guy into publishing his music, enticing Billy (Paul Whitty) to provide a piano, encouraging Bank Manager (Andy Taylor) to issue a loan for the cause. 

As time passes their friendship becomes stronger with both Guy and Girl definitely past the “in like” stage of their relationship.  Girl tells Guy that she loves him (in Czech) and it doesn’t translate. She also indicates that she is married to Ivanka’s father and he is expected back in Dublin shortly.  Guy confesses that he has reached out to his ex in New York. Even though his songs were written about his former girlfriend, he now sings them about the Girl.

How does this all end?   Does Guy leave for New York?   Does Girl reconcile with her husband or was this just a brief interlude between two people who for a moment in time needed one another?

The Guy (Stuart Ward) meets the Girl (Esther Stilwell) in Once.

The unique factor about this show is that the characters are also the musicians and they all perform beautifully.

Stilwell provides a comedic slant to her character as she intertwines her Czech accent into conversations with her Irish cohorts.  But Stilwell also conveys a hidden sadness, often heard through her music.

Ward plays Guy as a tormented soul. His duet with Stilwell in “Falling Slowly” is powerful.

Whitty pulls it off as the rough and tough music store owner. 

Taylor is funny as the business professional who thinks (erroneously) that he, too, can become a star musician. 

The central set design is the pub and images of Dublin street are projected. Subtle movement of the props, whether it’s a piano or a bench, suggest changes in the location.

 “Once” won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Musical.  Book by Enda Walsh. Music and Lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.

This is a fine production directed by J. Michael Zygo.


 “Once” is presented by Pittsburgh CLO at the Benedum Center and runs from July 30 – August 4. For more information, click here.

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