Guy meets Girl, and that’s where the introductions end.
The principal characters in this Sydney premiere production of Once remain nameless, but never voiceless throughout the minimalist musical nimbly staged in a Darlinghurst church-turned-playhouse.
The Irish vacuum repairman and Czech immigrant, connected by a hoover that will not suck, set about on a week-long mission to craft an album with a ragtag bunch of skilled musicians in Dublin.
The stars need no more than a few days to become well-versed in wistful love under each other’s tutelage.
Toby Francis’ Guy and Stefanie Caccamo’s Girl feed off each other’s wit and talent, each spurring the other to work to their full potential as they give their all to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s melodies.
Francis’ breathlessness is warranted at the end of the brutally pining When Your Mind’s Made Up, but Caccamo is undoubtedly the main attraction.
The actress, best known for her work in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, is affecting at the helm of the piano, commanding and impressive everywhere else.
Girl’s deadpan approach to comedy and love comes naturally, “I’m always serious. I’m Czech”, and keeps the audience locked out of her thoughts until the right moment.
The ensemble cast, including seasoned theatre and radio personality Cameron Daddo, commits to the accents and sensibilities of at-times caricatured roles, and to the rich history of Irish folk music.
Bringing the orchestra out of the pit and into the light helps preserve the trance of Once, with mere scene transitions becoming moments of intrigue as the kindred virtuosos weave hazily across the set.
It is during earnest scenes of stillness that the play feels most rushed, like the performers can’t wait to pick up their instruments again, but the audience - who have awaited the musical’s Sydney opening since it’s Australian premiere in Melbourne five years ago - hardly minds.
The Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s production is more musical than any iteration that has come before, a point of pride for director Richard Carroll.
Name an instrument, and musical director Victoria Falconer, who joins the cast as barmaid Reza, can probably play it.
Once is an amalgamation of the best of musicals, plays, intimate concerts and spontaneous pub sessions, the entangled union a recipe for success.
FOUR STARS: ****
After selling out its initial run, new shows have been added from July 30 to August 4.