“Once” at DalekoArts is Worth the Journey to New Prague. It Would Actually be Worth a Trip to Fargo.

Based on the enchanting film by John Carney, Once loses none of it’s charm in the transition to the stage. In fact, this particular production may have picked some up. I’d like to just say it’s fookin brilliant and leave it at that, but I think you expect a little more than that from me. That’s essentially what it boils down too. This blog was born in part from two experiences at the theatre in the spring of 2019. I saw two shows that blew me away and had me going back multiple times, bringing new people with to each performance. The energy I felt after those shows and desire to share it with others gave birth to the idea that became The Stages of MN. Tonight I’m feeling that same energy, that same desire to go again and bring everyone I know with. These shows that get you this high are rare. I’ve seen a lot of really good theater in 2022 already, fantastic shows, but something about this one has that special feeling. That desire to take everyone you know to it and remind them of how involving, joyful, and moving live theater can be. I had never been to DalekoArts in New Prague, probably because it’s in New Prague. If this is the kind of work they’re regularly putting out, I’ve made a huge mistake and denied myself some great theatre. In my defense, I hadn’t really heard of it until right before the pandemic. For me, it’s a 40 minute drive but hey, so is St. Paul when the traffics a little heavy. DO NOT LET THE DISTANCE STOP YOU.

So if you haven’t seen the film Once, it’s set in Dublin and follows the story of a guy and a girl who meet on the street when she hears him playing his guitar and singing a song. She is also musical and recognizes his talent, but recognizes that he’s about ready to give up on his music and himself. She doesn’t let him and they grow close in a very short amount of time. She learns about his life, losses, the girl he wrote the songs for has gone away to New York, his Mother has died, and he works with his father repairing Hoovers. He learns about hers as well, she is a Czech immigrant living with her mother, young daughter, her husband has gone home to Czeckloslovakia and things are not good between them right now. She convinces him that they should make a Demo of his songs and he should take it to New York to be with his girl and share his music. They raise the money for the demo and with the help of their friends make the demo, but all the while their feelings for each other grow stronger. The book is by Enda Walsh and it takes some liberties with Carney’s original story but they all work to create a tighter community within the world of the play and a sense of community is what is so remarkable about this production. That and the songs carried over from the film including the Oscar winning “Falling Slowly” most of which are by the stars of the film Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

Before the show proper begins the members of the orchestra and most of the cast are on stage performing songs. This has a very relaxed and spontaneous feel to it which carries directly into the show. Every member of the cast appears to be an accomplished musician. At any given time there are three or four guitars in use along with various other stringed instruments that I cannot name but I may have seen in an episode of Star Trek as a kid. Throw in a violin or two, a cello, a couple of pianos, and various percussion instruments, and assume probably anyone on stage at any given moment can play any of them. And when they do, but they do it so well, and here’s the key to the shows success they seem to do it on a whim. Like they are listening to someone perform and decide, hey I’m going to grab and instrument and join in. My first assumption when I saw the sheer number of guitars in play was that Chris Paulson who plays “Guy” probably couldn’t play and so he would fake strum along and the other guitars would handle the actual music. Nope, he’s not only a fantastic singer he’s really good on the guitar too. The Music Director and pianist in the orchestra Bradley Beahen is also on stage and again I thought maybe Leslie Vincent who plays “Girl” can’t really play the piano very well so she’ll be miming it as Beahen plays. Nope, not only does she have a great singing voice, but she can play piano very well. Folks what I’m saying is these are not The Monkees, these people are playing their own instruments, and singing, and acting, and there’s a little dance too. The music is sublime, kudos to Director Amanda White and Beahen for assembling such a musically gifted cast.

Aside from the film I have seen the stage musical Once before at Theatre Latte Da when they mounted a production in 2018 or 2019. I’m a big fan of the film and I enjoyed the Latte Da’s production as well. But there was something about this small theater, with a stage about 1/4 the size of The Ritz Theater. With just as many performers that created an atmosphere that surpasses what Latte Da with a budget probably 10X DalekoArts’ was able to conjure. I was in my favorite spot front row center, and you feel like you are part of the show, that you are just part of this environment where people just sort of grab a guitar and join in making fantastic music. This is why we restage shows, why we can go see a show at one theatre and go see the same show at another theatre. Different productions even with the same quality or musicians and performers can feel totally unique. This cast is perfect top to bottom. I’m a soft touch, but they moved me to tears of joy on at least three separate occasions. It isn’t just Paulson and Vincent either, though they are beyond perfect in the roles, it’s every single one of them. Even the ensemble player Shelby Lengyel, who has a short scene as the guys ex-Girlfriend brought me to tears in what, a 90 second scene. This cast and this production are off the hook. White’s direction keeps the show flowing like a winding river that doesn’t seem to know where it’s flowing to but still gets to exactly where it needs to be at exactly the right time. The casual atmosphere allows for transitions between scenes to feel organic and natural. You never forget you are in a theatre, but you do forget you are watching a scripted performance at times. In short it’s fookin brilliant.

DalekoArts is located in New Prague MN, the theatre is general admission get there early I think the performance I attended was sold out other than a single here and there, I saw a couple of parties have to split up. I also highly encourage you to sit as close as you can, front row is not too close, but really the theatre is so small there isn’t a bad seat in the house. For more information and to purchase tickets you can go to https://www.dalekoarts.com/home

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