Theater review: Lovely ‘Once’ at RMT will sneak up on you and grab you

Matthew J. Staley and Kristen Campbell as Guy and Girl in “Once.” (Photos by Stewart Edmonds/Red Mountain Theatre)

“Once” is a sneaky little musical.

At Red Mountain Theatre, that starts with some Irish tunes played from the stage starting about 15 minutes before curtain. That mini concert segues seamlessly into the show that’s built around beautiful songs and how they can bring people together.

It’s a simple story. Boy meets Girl (literally – they have no names in “Once”), girl restores boy’s love of music, boy and girl fall in love, and …

No spoilers here, except to tell you to get ready for a charming story with delightful songs, nicely staged by director Roy Lightner and his cast and crew.

Based on the 2007 movie, “Once” won multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2012. It all takes place in five days in Dublin, Ireland.

That cast is led by Matthew J. Staley as Guy, the musician whose love for music has come to an end after separating from his girlfriend, and Kristen Campbell as Girl, the mysterious Czech who appears and spurs him on to rekindle his career.

The two have an easy chemistry that Guy and Girl must have in this show for it to work, not the least of which is the way their voices blend. The combination of voices is particularly effective on “Falling Slowly,” the Oscar-winning song. Staley is appropriately moody and mesmerized (by the Girl), and Campbell, a Birmingham favorite who we already knew could sing, shows off her acting chops – and comedy timing.

The company of “Once” at Red Mountain Theatre.

They’re surrounded by an ensemble that, like Staley and Campbell, play their own musical instruments and act as their own orchestra (with music direction by Anthony Smith): Nick Stokes, Davis MacLeod Haines, Morgan Tapp, Dennis McLernon, Regina Harbour, Will Carter, Lilly Marie Garrison, Cody Taylor, Elleon Dobias, Kyle Dean Steffen and Alexander Horn.

Like any top-notch ensemble they all have their solo moments, but oh, how glorious it is when they join together for the a cappella “Gold.” It’s haunting, captivating and superb, a microcosm of the production itself.

This is one of those productions where everything comes together to make a perfect little musical, including Steve and Sam Carter Gilliam’s scenic design, Brad Cosby’s lighting design and Heather Hood’s costume design.

“Once” is a heartwarming show, in the end telling us that a good musical session can lessen most any woe. And maybe it can – “Once” certainly does that and will leave you smiling.

“Once” runs through April 24 at Red Mountain Theatre, 1600 Third Ave. S. Tickets are $25-$47.50.

4 comments On Theater review: Lovely ‘Once’ at RMT will sneak up on you and grab you

  • Thank you…if I am well enough I’ll try to make it – Thanks for the wonderful
    article. I’m a 67 yr old white woman and have lived here most of my life. I followed your
    career thru The B’ham News and Post-Herald for decades!

  • Belinda George Peoples

    Hello Alec, thank you for the wonderful information. It’s been a joy to read it. I remember when some of these actors and singers were just kids. But now, I’m so proud of them for pursuing their dreams of what they’ve wanted to do with their careers. What A Joy!! It makes me just smile. 😃 I’m looking forward to the shows, and hope to attend a multitude of them. They’re out there, and I’m supporting as many as possible. Keep doing what you’re doing. We appreciate your time, gift, and your talents for giving us the knowledge of, “What’s Happening Around Alabama!” Love It! 😃💕

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