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Tessa

Once: A New Musical is a show that is honestly not like one I have heard before. Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, Once has to do with a broken-hearted street musician and a woman drawn to his sad love songs. The two characters, addressed only as “Guy” and “Girl,” develop an unlikely connection, their primary bond being formed through music.

My first comment on this musical is that it really doesn’t stick to the general cookie-cutter shape of broadway shows. It’s a beautifully sad story, even if it isn’t technically an original concept. With a very folk-driven sound, the music is extremely original. There’s really only one other show that comes even close to a similar sound, and it didn’t rise to popularity until 2019, which was seven years after Once was on broadway. The fact that it brought such a new sound to the theatre while still being relatively popular is super impressive, especially with how some shows have gone under fire for trying to do that exact thing.

Now, although Once was fairly popular and well-received by critics, I have to admit that I have one issue with this show: it is extremely difficult to tell what the actual plot is by listening to the soundtrack alone. Although the music is beautiful, and in some cases, very sad, the listener has very little clue as to what is going on throughout the show. You never get any character names and only very slight hints as to what certain plot points are. Not every musical can be as clear as, say, Hamilton in the soundtrack alone, but even after looking up a full synopsis of the show, I still feel a bit lost. It may just be the case where this show is better to see live than it is to listen to; dialogue and interwoven scenes may put the cast recording into context and verify information not originally provided. However, it would be nice if the show had just a bit more context within the music itself.

Speaking of the music— when listening to the show in order, one thing that pops out to me is the extreme variation in moods when hopping from song to song. While this can be expected in cast recordings for shows, it feels like a constant jump from one extreme emotion to another. Going from “The Moon,” a beautiful slower song featuring Will Connolly, to “Ej Pada Pada Rosicka,” a piece involving most of the ensemble, is a huge twist in emotion. The latter is extremely high-paced, which is a stark difference to the gentle song just one track prior. If that happened once in the entire soundtrack, I’d be able to excuse it— but it feels like the majority of it is bouncing from upbeat and quick to languid and sad. There’s no firm mood established in this musical, which may not bother many people, but it just adds to the confusion for me. What scenes could there have been in between to make the mood change that drastically from song to song?

Despite my complaints about the lack of context and general inconsistencies in terms of mood, I thoroughly enjoy Once: A New Musical. Songs like “The Moon,” “The Hill,” and “Gold” are all absolutely gorgeous, and the orchestrations for every song make each piece enjoyable to listen to. It’s mostly some consistency issues that bother me, but they are relatively cleared up with a quick synopsis search. 

Overall, I adore Once: A New Musical. For the time it came out, it was relatively new and unheard of. The genre itself is not one you see on Broadway often, which had it catering to a new audience without coming off like it was trying too hard. The songs are well orchestrated, the storyline is relatively easy to follow once looked in to, and the characters are likable. Even without the context in the cast album, Once is a lovely show to listen to, and easily one I would recommend to anyone looking for something new to listen to.  

Jordyn

When I heard about Once: A New Musical, I was immediately intrigued. I had heard that it was going to be unlike any musical that had ever been out before. I listened to the soundtrack straight through one day and fell in love with all the different songs they had. They were so beautiful and I loved that they were so simple, usually only having a guitar and/or piano backing them. Not to mention how beautiful the harmonies that some of the songs had were. Each character had an incredible voice that blended so well with the others. 

The songs actually didn’t give away much about the plot of the show, so I had no idea what the show was actually truly about. The musical was based on a movie from 2007, but I had never seen, or even heard about, the movie at the time. My senior year of high school, I was part of an organization in my hometown called “YAP,” or the Youth Ambassador Program. This program allowed us to see the traveling shows in our local theater for free. When I found out Once would be one of the shows we get to see, I was too excited. I listened to the show non stop to prepare for it. 

Seeing this show live was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It was the first show that I’d seen where the actors were actually playing their instruments on the stage while singing and acting everything out as well. There was no orchestra, only the cast. It was incredibly impressive to see. The story made a lot more sense after seeing it and understanding that some of the songs written were more stories that the characters were telling. There, of course, were songs that were part of the characters’ stories, but they were mostly folk stories that the characters were telling each other and the audience. They weren’t all telling the story of the characters like most musicals do. The stories were simple and easy to understand and they made sense in the musical. It didn’t feel like they were randomly placed at all. Each character was very complex and real. They all had real life flaws and weren’t perfect in any way. It made the show much more relatable. Seeing people on the stage going through struggles in their lives and seeking comfort in each other was really refreshing, even if the end wasn’t quite what the audience would’ve wanted. 

The set design was very simple as well. The show took place in a restaurant/ bar, so there was only really one stationary set that they used. The show seems like a very typical love story, but everything that happens throughout the show is not typical. The costumes were, of course, very simple also. Each character was meant to be passing by and going through the bar was only one stage of their life before they continued on. It was truly an interesting show with great songs and lots of different emotions throughout. I highly recommend everyone see it if you ever get the chance. It’s 100% worth it. 

Tessa is a sophomore journalism and theater double major at SUNY Oswego. They love reading, hanging out with friends, and crocheting in their free time. They also adore theatre, and are hoping to get more engaged with the art as they go through college.
Jordyn is a Biology major with a minor in creative writing at SUNY Oswego. She hopes to open a rehabilitation center for wildlife in the future. She's very passionate about animals and spreading awareness for animal rights. She also enjoys drawing and painting.
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