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“Once” at Curtis Theatre

Updated: Feb 14

From Left: Emma Laird and Alec Reusch (Photo by Francis Gacad)

A Bittersweet, Unconventional Love Story Amplified By Music

By Shannon Cudd

Not all love stories can be placed in a neat box. Some chance encounters can change the trajectory of our lives and linger long after they have ended. This is one of the many themes explored in the hit musical “Once,” coming to Curtis Theatre in February. There is nothing typical about this musical.

“Once” the musical, is based on the 2007 independent film of the same name written and directed by John Carney. The production of the movie faced many challenges. It was made with a shoestring budget of $150,000, a skeleton crew, and shot in just 17 days. Corners were cut, such as using friends’ apartments for filming locations and utilizing natural light. Despite all this, the film would go on to be a commercial and artistic success, winning an Oscar, Grammy, and Independent Spirit Award.

Flash forward to Curtis’ season planning stages, and it turns out both director Jonathan Infante and artistic director Kristofer Kataoka are big fans of the movie. “I remember fawning over that movie when it came out,” Infante recalled. “I love the movie because of the music aspect of it,” Kataoka agreed.

Their love for the film was only one of the many reasons the pair was drawn to the story. The plot itself is straightforward. An Irish musician, Guy, is about to give up on music but meets a Czech immigrant, Girl, who over the course of a week filled with musical collaborations inspires him to follow his dreams. “I love little intricate stories that take place over a short amount of time. I think we tell a lot of long love stories and happy endings,” Infante explained.

Alec Reusch (Photo by Jonathan Infante)

“It's really just two people coming together wanting to make music, and then doing what it takes to get that done. It is kind of beautiful that they can have such a compelling story and not have like, the classic tropes of the mustache-twirling villain or anything like that,” Kataoka mused.

While the story might be simple, the subtext is not. There is much brewing in these characters under the surface. When we meet Guy, he is heartbroken about an ex-girlfriend who moved to New York and met someone new. He is ready to give up his musical aspirations and work for his dad fixing broken vacuums. Girl refocuses him, helps him harness his pain, and together they create beautiful music. She has her own emotional baggage as she is estranged from her husband with whom she shares a daughter.

Another layer of this story is the immigrant experience. The story is set in Dublin, Ireland, but Girl’s family is Czech. They learned English from soap operas and faced discrimination. Guy ultimately leaves Ireland to go to New York to pursue his music career. Girl instinctively knows he has to do this in order to succeed even though she has developed deep feelings for him. There’s a powerful scene where she muses about how many artists came from the small island and go on to make great artistic contributions to the world at large.

This story urges audiences to follow their own dreams. Sometimes all it takes is having one person believe in you to give you the courage to act. Girl was that person for Guy.

From Left: Alec Reusch and Emma Laird (Photo by Francis Gacad)

Producing this musical is not an easy undertaking. Every actor in this production has to be a quadruple threat. They act, sing, dance, and play instruments, making up the live band for the show. This means that the audition process for this musical was closer to an open mic night than your normal musical theater open call. Callbacks were one big jam session. Infante and musical director Patrick Copeland had to assemble a group of artists with very specific talents.

There is also a fun pre-show element to “Once.” Before the show begins, audiences are invited onstage to purchase a drink to enjoy while the cast performs music. It’s a great way to break the fourth wall and immerse oneself in the world of the play. The whole show utilizes just the single bar set, expertly designed by Jon Gaw. Through the magic of lights, designed by Kataoka and choreography by Kelsie Blackwell, audiences are transported to other locations.

Infante promises, “the show lingers in people's brains for a really long time afterward.” Kataoka muses that this production “is not one of the tired old stories you've seen a million times,” stressing its compelling yet simple nature. “It still brings me to tears every time I see it,” he adds.

Both Infante and Kataoka hope you come for the music, story, and the hope it gives and after experiencing it you are inspired to go out and follow your own dreams.

Shannon Cudd is a writer, actor, and theater lover in Orange County, California. 

“Once”Curtis Theatre

1 Civic Center Cir, Brea, CA

February 9 - 25, 2024

(714) 990-7722,

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