Gili Roskies and Adrian Glynn McMorran in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Once. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Gili Roskies and Adrian Glynn McMorran in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Once. Photo by Emily Cooper.

If you’re going to go out, you will definitely want to do it on a high note. Bill Millerd does just that with the musical Once, his final production for the Arts Club Theatre Company.

After 45 years at the helm of the Arts Club Theatre Company, Millerd is stepping down as artistic managing director. He is also the director of this final show in the company’s 54th season, that is so filled with love, your heart may ache as you leave the Granville Island Stage.

Billed as an “enchanting guy-meets-girl musical”, this only scratches at the surface of what Once is all about. For Once isn’t your typical love story, it is a story about love.

Dig a little deeper into Enda Walsh’s wonderful book and the equally beautiful music from Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová and you discover far more riches. And while it may use a love story as its base, it is all wrapped inside a love for family, for culture, and most importantly, for music.

Having given up on life, love and his music, Once is the story of a young Dubliner, known simply as “Guy”, and how he finds passion again through the help of a young Czech “Girl”. With her own problems with love, she immediately recognizes something special in his music. As the two form a unique bond, there is a hopeful sadness that permeates, exquisitely realized by this talented cast.

Leading the way are Adrian Glynn McMorran and Gili Roskies as the central couple. While both have wonderful voices, it is not a stretch to imagine McMorran as the young singer-songwriter on the verge of something big.

McMorran commands the stage in his musical numbers and while there is a definite chemistry between him and Roskies, it is appropriately tempered, underscoring this unconventional love story. There is a hesitancy to Roskies performance that is exquisitely realized. Topping it all off, McMorran is also an accomplished guitarist, and Roskies is equally as skilled on the piano.

Supporting McMorran and Roskies is an ensemble of quadruple threats, able to act, sing, dance and play an instrument (in most cases here, more than one). Not only taking on the roles of various other characters in Walsh’s story, they just as often become a Greek chorus of sorts, shading scenes, or providing the accompaniment to the musical numbers.

In this sea of talent, Chris Cochrane amuses as the proud Dublin music store owner, and the interactions between him and Caitriona Murphy’s banker are a delight.

The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Once. Photo by Emily Cooper.
The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Once. Photo by Emily Cooper.

For a musical about music, sound designer, Ace Martens ensures everything is crisp. Choreographer Scott Augustine forgoes the traditional dance numbers for simple movement, working beautifully with the often-haunting ballads from Hansard and Irglová.

My only quibble, inside an otherwise beautifully realized production, comes from the diminished Irish pub on the Granville Island Stage. Where in previous productions the entire stage is taken up by the pub, in this production set designer, Ted Roberts, has chosen a much smaller version upstage centre and oddly choose to place the only static piece, Guy’s small bedroom, high above stage right.

For those who have not seen previous productions this will no doubt be a non-issue, but for those who have, the effect lessens some of the magical moments as the pub is transformed into its various locales. The use of projections, designed to help identify location, felt unnecessary and often distracting.

They say that once is never enough, and this proverb remains true.  Having seen the original Broadway and a touring production, it is one show that continues to live up to its hype. It is also one the best shows to grace the Granville Island Stage in some time.

And as for endings, one would be hard-pressed to find a better way to celebrate Millerd’s departure.

Once, with book by Enda Walsh and music & lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney. Directed by Bill Millerd. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at the Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston St, Vancouver) until August 5. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.

July 11 update: this review was updated to reflect the extended run of the show, with a new closing date of August 5.

The Arts Club Theatre Company's outgoing artistic managing director, Bill Millerd, joins the cast of Once on stage.
The Arts Club Theatre Company’s outgoing artistic managing director, Bill Millerd, joins the cast of Once on stage. Once marks the final show programmed and directed by Millerd over his 45-year career at Vancouver’s largest theatre company. Photo by David C Jones.