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"Once," show #874

CenterStage Clovis has an impeccable production of Once, the musical adaptation of the Oscar-winning film of the same name, on its hands. Darren Tharp and Mason Lamb, serving as director and music director, respectively, have created a production where, yes, the talent and tech shine, but never at the cost of diluting the power of the play’s true star: the music. Not once does a blocking choice, choreographic staging of a number, singing turn, or technical design get in the way of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s beautiful score (the same team who wrote and starred in the film). This accomplished production belongs to the entire company and team at CenterStage Clovis, but is executed by its acting company, as they are the quadruple-threats (singing, acting, movement, and musicians). Be assured that this cast, in its entirety, is a sturdy company of talented artists. They give breath and musical life to this show the way the creators intended, and we Central Valley audiences are the ones who benefit.

(Ted Nunes (Guy) and Carly Oliver (Girl); Photo credit: Amy Cross)

Led by the infallible pairing of Ted Nunes (Guy) and Carly Oliver (Girl), Once truly resides in these two’s story. It’s one of those rare arcs where the potential-for-romance plot plays second fiddle to how the music and experience connect these two; Nunes and Oliver are more than up to the challenge of settling in for the slow-burn development of their relationship. Nunes’s opening “Leave” demonstrates his natural fit for Guy’s vocals and journey, while Oliver finds every magic moment of laughter, flirtatiousness, and dramatic nuance in guidance of her journey as Girl. Oliver’s vocals in “If You Want Me” are simply stunning, providing an emotional and pitch-perfect solo turn. Nunes and Oliver team up for an exquisite “When Your Mind’s Made Up” where, in its simplicity, less is truly more, letting the vocals and facial acting do the work. However, to give credit to Edna Walsh’s Tony-winning book, both Nunes and Oliver give careful attention to their scene work, especially in Guy’s “Scared” monologue later in act two. The scenes between these two, whether just them or among the supporting cast, are delivered in a way that either gives a nice reprieve from the dominantly-folk/ballad score or mirrors the score’s rhythm in book form.

(L to R: Camille Gaston (Reza), Michael Cross (Svec), Carly Oliver (Girl), and Lex Martin (Andrej); Photo credit: Amy Cross)

Lex Martin is a supporting standout as the earnest Andrej, a working artist who ambitions to always move up; he has a great turn at “The Moon,” complementing Guy and Girl’s first bedroom chat nicely with his vocals and presence. Thomas Hayes brings a well-earned comedic break as the Bank Manager with his rendition of “Abandon in Bandon,” a lovely ditty that shows off humor with equal passion for the instrument; it demonstrates the line that most characters in this show must traverse: fulfilling one’s responsibility to allow them to pursue and engage in their art. Kate McKnight is lovely as the caring and humorous Baruska, and Camille Gaston stands out as Reza, the ever-flirty and fun roommate to Girl. Kyle Dodson delivers, by far, the most over-the-top, animated performance as music shop owner, Billy, complete with karate kicks, double-takes, and an infectious energy that plays well opposite Girl, Guy, and the company in the studio when they record Guy’s album.

(Thomas Hayes (Bank Manager); Photo credit: Amy Cross)

Judith Dickison’s vocal direction is given sublime honor, whether the cast is in solo, duet, small group, or company number, and none more prevalent than the act two “Gold (reprise)” where, from the first catch-breath to final cutoff, the audience is enraptured in acapella, auditory triumph. Dan Aldape’s exquisite light design is fantastic in complementing Tharp’s direction and choreographer Erin Roberts’s staging while consistently prioritizing the emotional pull of the script and score. Aldape’s projection design is just enough to give context while not distracting from the otherwise simple, smooth flow to the on-stage furniture and S. Eric Day’s lovely scenic design.

(Company members of Once; Photo credit: Amy Cross)

Once is not a show to be taken lightly, and its message is one that transcends music artists. The story is so simple and yet universally relevant, so when a company like CenterStage Clovis puts their talents to tell it, it doesn’t just do justice to the Tony-winning musical but absolutely makes it sing. Go see this show!

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