Writers Theatre Presents ONCE Review — Breathtaking Night of Music

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We are in an Irish Pub. It’s been a long day. The regulars are all hanging around the bar and drinking. A few folks step up to the microphone to play a little song, but nothing too serious. The overall mood is good humor and fun as everyone unwinds from the day. Guy (Matt Mueller) steps up to the microphone and announces he has a song. A couple of folks heckle and laugh, feeding off each other as they poke fun at Guy’s attempt. Feeling nervous, he looks over to Girl (Dana Saleh Omar) who gives him an encouraging nod.

Slowly, Guy begins to play on his guitar. Becoming consumed by the music, the hecklers quiet down, and Guy starts to sing:

And I love her so.
I wouldn’t trader her for gold.
I’m walking on moon beams
I was born with a silver spoon.

Mueller’s voice rings off the rafters as Guy plays on. The hecklers in the pub slowly approach, surrounding him. Won over by the heart of his song, they join in, filling out the sound with the breathtaking voices and instruments of the ensemble.

At its center, Once is about the power of music, and how one’s authentic voice has the power to inspire even the coldest of hearts. In this moment, we as an audience witness Guy assume that power, as well as how the bar completely transforms in response. 

At the end of the song, the ensemble falls silent, and slowly the lights fade down. All we can see is Guy and Girl staring into each other’s eyes, knowing that no matter who else was inspired by the music, this moment really was between the two of them. All the Opening Night audience could do was roar with applause. 

Writers Theatre Presents Once

Based on the movie written and directed by John Carney, Once follows Guy (Mueller) – a young Irish musician lost in heartbreak and ready to give up on his music. When Girl (Omar), a young Czech woman, hears him sing for the first time, she is certain that the power of his music could win over his ex-girlfriend. The two form a band and as they start to create music together, they slowly find that the love between them may be even stronger than the one they set out to save.

Directed by Katie Spelman and Music Directed by Matt Deitchman, the Tony-Award winning musical features a dazzling score. Those familiar with the album will recognize the hits including Falling Slowly, Gold, If You Want Me, Leave, and The North Strand. At its heart, this is a story about love, and Mueller and Omar share an intimate and authentic chemistry as they bring that to life. If you are anything like this writer, you may just find yourself rooting for their success – especially when the two sing their duets.

Jaw-Dropping Ensemble

In the second act, Guy and Girl’s band pulls an all-nighter to complete an album. At the end of an exhausting night for all involved, the lights fade out. The entire audience is consumed by darkness, wondering what exactly will happen next. Softly, the voices of the ensemble start to sing, and it becomes clear that they are spread throughout the theater –on the stage as well as in the aisles amongst the audience members. This writer was so drawn into the sound that it took her a few moments to realize the artists were not only singing in darkness, but also a capella. Without instruments to guide them, the ensemble skillfully sings on, and the lights very slowly start to brighten. We are watching a sunrise take place enveloped by music. 

Throughout the play, we watch Guy inspire those on stage with his music. However, with the artists spread in every corner of the space, we as an audience are invited into this intimate moment, experiencing the sunrise alongside the characters. We too are granted the opportunity to wonder and feel inspired by the lyrics and sound. At the end of the song, one could hear a pin drop – with a silence that expanded for almost a good minute. It felt clear this Opening Night audience was a bit lost in their awe, wondering how best to respond. 

If you are anything like this writer, you may find that the cast’s collective skills draws you to the edge of your seat, inviting you to wonder how they will amaze next.  The entire score is played by the ensemble – featuring not only top-notch actors, but also deeply talented musicians who each sing and play multiple instruments throughout. At times even mid-song we see performers trade instruments, demonstrating masterful levels of expertise at every turn. 

The score and writing alone are reasons to catch the show – especially if you are one for love stories. However, the cast of jaw-dropping talent makes Writers Theatre’s production of Once an experience that simply should not be missed. 


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Kajsa Allen and Viva Boresi (Ivonka), Elisa Carlson (Reza), Yuchi Chiu (Bank Manager), Matt Deitchman (Eamon, understudy Guy), Elleon Dobias (Ex-Girlfriend, understudy Reza), Matt Edmonds (Billy), Jordan Golding (Emcee, understudy Svec, Billy), Lucas Looch Johnson (Svec), Matt Mueller (Guy), Liam Oh (Andrej), Dana Saleh Omar (Girl), Ron E. Rains (Da), and Bethany Thomas (Baruska).The understudies are: Harper Caruso (Emcee, Eamon), Tim Kidwell (Da), Bridget Adams King (Baruska) Ben Mathew (Bank Manager, Andrej), Alina Jenine Taber (Girl) and Jennifer Vosters (Ex-Girlfriend).


Katie Spelman (Director & Choreographer), Matt Deitchman (Music Director), Sammi Grant (Dialect Coach), Yael Lubetzky (Lighting Designer), Christopher M. LaPorte and Sarah Ramos (Sound Designer), Joonhee Park (Scenic Designer), Gregory Graham (Costume Designer), Rachel Watson (Properties Designer), and Erin Pleake (Projections Designer). The Production Stage Manager is Miranda Anderson, the Assistant Director is Madeline Curtin, the Assistant Music Director is Shraman Ghosh, and the Young Performers’ Supervisor is Grace Weaver.


February 16-March 26, 2023

Wednesdays: 3:00pm and 7:30pm
Thursdays: 7:30pm
Fridays: 7:30pm
Saturdays: 3:00pm and 7:30pm
Sundays: 2:00pm and 6:00pm


325 Tudor Court
IL 60022



For more information and tickets visit the Writers Theatre website.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.

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Lauren Katz

About the Author: Lauren Katz

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.

Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.

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