Review: Wilbury Theater Group Ends Season With Tender, Powerful ‘Once’

Nile Hawver in Wilbury Theater Group’s production of ‘Once’. Source: Courtesy of Niki Healy

Review: Wilbury Theater Group Ends Season With Tender, Powerful ‘Once’

Wilbury Theater Group concludes their season with the deeply moving and beautiful production of the Tony Award-winning musical “Once.”
Based on the 2007 film by John Carney with a book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the show chronicles a romantic and musical collaboration between Guy (Nile Scott Hawver) and Girl (Alison Russo) over the course of of a few days in Dublin, Ireland.

Guy is despondent after his girlfriend leaves for New York City. He is a guitarist and works with his father (Vince Petronio) in a shop where they repair vacuum cleaners.

Girl has a chance meeting on the street with Guy. She has a vacuum cleaner that needs to be repaired. Instead of paying him with money, she goes to the piano in a music store and convinces Guy to perform with her.

Nile Hawver and Alison Russo in Wilbury Theater Group’s production of ‘Once’

Source: Courtesy of Niki Healy

The girl has a young daughter, Ivanka (Leola Hogan, Colette Hogue) and a husband who left her. She is a headstrong woman, but also very observant. She realizes that Guy is not only a great guitarist, but also an accomplished songwriter. Eventually, Guy and Girl, together with her housemates, record songs for an album. During this process, Guy falls in love with his musical inspiration. But will she return his affection?

Hawver and Russo’s performances are powerful and charming. He is serious and self-doubting, while she is defiant and determined. They are also very talented singers and musicians. Hawver and Russo’s duet on the ballad “Falling Slowly” is tender and poignant. It achieves greater emotional depth than most typical love songs. Their relationship is not your standard musical romance. These are deeply troubled individuals trying to put the broken pieces of their lives back together. Their music expresses their longing, their fears and their hopes.

Quinn’s (“Twelfth Night”) role as acerbic music store owner Billy is a comedic gem, along with Teddy Lytle (“Wolf Play”) as the blond-haired Svec, a deranged musician fond of uttering outlandish non-sequiturs. Lytle steals every scene he is in with his uninhibited physicality and larger-than-life presence.

The ensemble for Wilbury Theater Group’s production of ‘Once’

Source: Courtesy of Niki Healy

Dave Rabinow (“You Got Older”) is hilarious as a bank manager with musical ambitions. His improvised musical performance during the meeting with Guy and Girl is a comic highlight.

Claudia Traub (“Indecent”) is wonderfully eccentric and wise as Girl’s loving mother, offering Guy unsolicited advice. Petronio (“Julius Caesar”) provides a supportive and reassuring presence as he encourages his son to pursue his dreams and put the past behind him.

Director Josh Short (“Spring Awakening”) deserves praise for his imaginative staging. Monica Shinn’s impressive set design recreates the look and feel of a Dublin nightclub. Matt Oxley’s costumes and Alexander Sprague’s evocative lighting are also transformative.

“Once” is an exhilarating experience, filled with heart and soul, and is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes as the magic of this story sweeps you away in its power. This is a show not to be missed.

“Once” runs through June 23. Wilbury Theater Group. 475 Valley St., Providence, RI. For tickets, visit

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other LGBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

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