Director’s Chair column: ‘Once’ is groundbreaking in its simplicity | VailDaily.com

Director’s Chair column: ‘Once’ is groundbreaking in its simplicity

If you're like me, then you're looking forward to saying "goodbye" to 2016 and giving a warm welcome to 2017. After a year that seemed to bring far too many deaths in the arts and entertainment world, we can use some uplifting stories to start off 2017 right.

In the musical "Once," we have just the right blend of song, story, love and great music to set us off on the right foot. This is a show most people will recognize from its Academy-Award-winning cinematic cousin: "Once" the movie.

Its Broadway version, which comes to the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek on Jan. 9, gathered even greater accolades, scoring the incredibly prestigious Tony Award for Best Musical in 2012.

Tony Awards for Best Musical don't exactly grow on trees, and theatrical productions based on movies are usually brushed away by the awards committee as too replicative and unoriginal. One exception was "The Lion King," which took home the honor in 1998 for its fresh combination of modern Elton John music and traditional African design.

Usually, however, Tony Award winners are breathtaking in their originality. In 2000, the honor went to the controversial musical dance play "Contact" — a show that stirred up so much argument that a totally new category was added to the awards. "Wicked" was everyone's favorite to win the 2004 Tony Awards, but the much more radical, risk-taking and original musical "Avenue Q" —an R-rated spoof of "Sesame Street" complete with full puppet nudity — surprised everyone with the win.

True-to-Life Characters

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"Once" manages to be incredibly inventive, not because of a big budget or flashy production, but due to something that's becoming even more rare in today's cultural environment: true-to-life characters and masterful storytelling.

Its minimalist set and immersive environment belied the producer's confidence in the power of the story itself. With no need for fiery gimmicks or high-flying stunts, the cast of "Once" comes to the stage with instruments in hand, playing in each and every musical number themselves and bringing a performance that not only garnered Best Musical, but seven other Tony Awards, as well.

And something special will also happen at the Jan. 9 performance: 15 minutes before the show, we will open an onstage bar. Then, the musicians will come to the stage for a jam session and the audience can experience the music up close.

When the musical begins, it will follow a lonely Irish musician known only as Guy and a Girl who helps him face the music and try to go to New York to find his ex-girlfriend. The show includes music written by the same songwriting team that appeared in and wrote music for the original film, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song (the bittersweet "Falling Slowly").

By the end of 2013, "Once" had racked up 13 Tony, Drama Desk and Grammy award wins for its Broadway production. It's a whole different type of show than "The Producers," which played at the Vilar Center in 2016, or a millennial phenomenon such as "Hamilton." It's a symbol of how far musical theater can go with ordinary people telling a deep and entirely human story every once in a while.

And, from my point of view, it's a great way for all of us to hit the right notes as we begin 2017.

Duncan Horner is the executive director of the Vilar Performing Arts Center. For more information on the Vilar Performing Arts Center, visit http://www.vilarpac.org or call 970-845-TIXS.

If you go …

What: “Once,” the musical.

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9.

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.

Cost: $68.

More information: Tickets are available now at the VPAC box office, by calling 970-845-8497 or at http://www.vilarpac.org.