Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.
|City Theater Company launches season with ONCE. Photo by Joe del Tufo.|
McElrone added: “Our approach to theater and improv considers the art form of live performance to be a creative collaboration between players, directors, designers, writers, and the audience.”
It should be noted that CTC has been entertaining audiences virtually during the pandemic with online content but is eager to get back to live performances (and audiences) starting with the musical Once. The 2012 Tony Award–winner for Best Musical is based on the Irish musical film and features actors playing their own instruments onstage. The musical features 12 performers/musicians and a child actor.
The space inside TDC is intimate and three rows on each side flank a central performance area with a larger stage at one end and a small musicians’ area at the other. In this way, the audience is sometimes being directed to follow back-and-forth dialog like an attendee at a tennis match. (It’s not that extreme, but noticeable during certain dialogs.) But the space also allows musicians to sit in all corners of the room, providing a true unamplified “surround sound.” A large bank of TV screens looms over the stage end and provides clever multimedia effects for the show.
However, the acoustics are tricky and only the full ensemble numbers properly fill the room. While pleasant, the solos and intimate duets could stand to be a bit louder to properly resonate with the audience. Some of the dialog got swallowed up by the room on Opening Night, but the performers portrayed the emotions and plot devices well enough to move the narrative forward.
If you’re not familiar with the story, an Irish busker/”Hoover repairman” meets a plucky Czech woman in Dublin and their passion for music — and each other — takes them to wonderfully sonic places. You don’t need to understand much of the accented dialog to enjoy the incredible music Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová composed for the original 2007 film written by John Carney — no, not our current Delaware Governor. ;)
And it’s the music that shines in this production. Righteous Jolly is listed as “Guy” in the program but is “The Man” whenever he’s featured. Jolly has the musical chops to deliver glorious melodies and guitar accompaniments plus the charisma to have the audience root for him. His wounded and vulnerable Guy has an inner drive to better himself by spending as much time as possible with new acquaintance “Girl.” Girl is portrayed in a lovingly restrained way by Julia Natoli, whose talented vocals and piano-playing act as the perfect complement to Jolly’s Guy. He’s sociable but shy, while she’s quiet but direct. Together, they are a power couple of sorts in their world. The two enjoy a whirlwind relationship that never quite gets to where both think it could. They drag their family and friends along for the ride while the audience gets to gleefully watch it all unfold.
Guy and Girl soar to new heights in duets like “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and “If You Want Me” which included an inventive dream-quality choreography. But the show highlight is the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly.” Simply put, this is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of music to come out of Hollywood or Broadway (or Ireland/Czech Republic) in the past 25-40 years. Jolly and Natoli nail it. (Song co-writer Irglová once said: “This song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are.”)
But this is not a morbid or depressing show. At its heart, Once shows the joy of making music together here and now, regardless of its potentially fleeting nature. The cast includes fantastic local musicians who turn out to be pretty solid actors. Aidan McDonald (“Billy”) and Emma Romeo Moyer (“Bank Manager”) were lively whenever in the spotlight. Moyer’s off-key “Abandoned in Bandon” was a hoot! The ensemble numbers “Gold” and “Ej Pada Pada” were delightful. And not all of the Guy/Girl songs are about unrequited love as “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” happily refutes.
Director/Music Director Joe Trainor put together wonderful musical arrangements for his cast. Some of the stage blocking was clunky, but as the company better grows into its new space I think cooperated movement will improve. Credit should be given to McElrone for taking on such an ambitious project to restart CTC live productions in a new performance space after the pandemic. While there are some minor issues to iron out, Once is a worthwhile return of CTC to a Wilmington community looking for earnest live theater.
Once will run for seven performances through next Saturday (December 10-18). Curtain is at 8:00pm, save for the lone Sunday matinee (2:00pm, December 12). The show lasts just under 2.5 hours, which includes one 15-minute intermission. City Theater Company’s new home is at The Delaware Contemporary located at 200 South Madison, Wilmington, DE 19801. Tickets ($30-40) can be purchased at the CTC box office or online. Special ticket pricing is available for military personnel, and students. Please call the box office at 302.220.8285 or visit city-theater.org for details.
City Theater plans, on average, two big shows each season — which runs from December to late spring. These shows typically run two or three weekends. Up next spring is Blues in My Soul by Delaware playwright David Robson.