OREM — Timeless, memorable, profound, jaw-dropping. These words swirled in my mind as I exited Hale Center Theater after seeing Once.

Show closes June 3, 2023.

Not every production has the benefit of magnificent original material as Once does, with music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová and a book by Enda Walsh adapted from the film written and directed by John Carney. However, the artists at Hale Center Theatre Orem do not stand idly by to let the music of Once take all the credit for its success. Instead, they work hard to enhance both music and story with impressive dialect work, invigorating lighting design, and an energetic cast of talented musicians. This production of Once makes it clear that creating music connects musicians with their listeners and left me with the strong desire to come back to Once again.

The music-driven Once tells the story of “Guy,” an Irish-born guitarist living in 1990s Dublin. He meets the Czech “Girl” just as he decides to quit music altogether and submit to a lackluster life of being a “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy.” Through a week-long series of compromises and inspirational jam sessions, Girl inspires him to share his music for the rest of the world to hear. At the same time, their musical and romantic connection is put to the test as they journey through a breathtaking cultural and emotional soundscape, gracefully taking the audience along with them.

Once is a show that demands attention to musical detail and lots of heart infused into each song. A script that is so demanding of its actors can be hard to execute well, but Hale Center Theater Orem’s Saturday night cast of Once delightfully proved that it can be done. Kristian Huff as Guy brings the perfect balance of raw power and folky sincerity to the difficult music. Malia Mackay as Girl strongly but gently asserts herself onstage as a complex fairy pixie dream girl. They both blend together in a way that makes me wonder if there really is a connection between the two actors that no one else can see. 

Additionally, the rest of the cast contributes to the success of Once in a big way. Each member of the ensemble brings inescapable energy to the stage that made me want to laugh, clap, and stomp all at the same time. Through David Morgan’s innovative direction, the cast fills up the small stage with the rambunctious and hearty life of Dublin. Moreover, each musician proves themselves as much more than their instrument, with heart-touching performances and an a capella number that demonstrates why they were cast. Every member of the 12-person show is truly a quadruple threat: they can sing, dance, act, and play.

Kristian Huff as Guy. Photo by Suzy O Photography.

Dianna Graham, the dialect coach on this production, has helped everyone, from the two lead performers to the band members with one line, all speak with impeccable Irish or Czech accents. This was vital to setting the tone and location of the piece.

Working hand in hand with Graham’s dialect work was Ryan Fallis’s standout lighting and media designs. By using the onstage screens as a means of displaying Czech translations and lyrics, Fallis includes the audience in the prominent non-English speaking world of the characters of the play. Additionally, Fallis’s seamless blending of lighting with music sweeps the audience away in the magic of live music, exemplified during the song “Falling Slowly.”

Even more impressive was the integration of light within the set design, an obvious collaboration between Fallis and Brad Shelton, the set designer. They employed 12 different light fixtures that would smoothly lower from the grid above to represent where the characters were at any point of the musical, efficiently using the limited space onstage.  A notable moment of directorial and design prowess was in the final scene of the show. As the reprise of the most memorable song is sung by the two stalwart main characters, all of the 12 light fixtures descend towards the stage, the lighting slowly increases, and the entire cast joins in. Suddenly, the audience could see one another seated at all sides of the intimate theatre-in-the-round, and the cast can see the audience. This marriage of the show’s theme to a technical design and smart direction created a moment of theatrical magic that united everyone, no matter Czech or Irish, audience or cast.

Malia Mackay as Girl. Photo by Suzy O Photography.

Hale Center Theater Orem has a triumphant production of Once that everyone should see. Indeed, the show “is for all of us.” I encourage everyone to see it, preferably not just once.

Once plays nightly (except Sundays) at 7:30 PM, with additional matinees at 4 PM on Saturdays through June 3, with additional 12 PM performances on April 29, May 13, 20, 27, and June 3 at Hale Center Theater (225 West 400 North, Orem). Tickets are $27-33. For more information, visit haletheater.org.

This review was supported by a generous grant from the Orem CARE program.