NPR logo First Listen: Original Cast Recording, 'Once'

First Listen: Original Cast Recording, 'Once'


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The original cast recording of Once comes out March 13. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

The original cast recording of Once comes out March 13.

Courtesy of the artist

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From the very outset — a vigorous four-count windup which kicks off a rowdy riff on melodies traditional and original — the cast album for Broadway's Once serves notice that the stage version of everyone's favorite bittersweet Dublin romance isn't going to take quite the same gentle tone as John Carney's 2006 film.

Set in a pub where patrons gather less to drown their sorrows than to water them like prized shrubs, the adaptation is more extroverted than its inspiration, which was probably inevitable given the translation from indie-film vernacular to musical-theater idiom. So along with the iconic (and Oscar-winning) ache of "Falling Slowly" and the wry, self-deprecating originality of "Broken-Hearted Hoover-Fixer Sucker Guy," you get the vigorously folky "Abandoned in Bandon" — a new track meant to sound like an Irish drinking song — and a table-thumping read on "Ej Pada Pada Rosicka," which actually is a folk classic from the Czech tradition, and a catchy one at that. Even the mates-at-a-party ballad "Gold" and the aggravated duet "When Your Mind's Made Up" get a more muscular treatment here than in the original, with richer instrumentation and more forward vocals.

Glen Hansard's winsomely shaggy voice is supplanted on this new recording by the more burnished baritenor of Steve Kazee, who's probably more leading man than street-busking lovable loser — he played Lancelot in Spamalot — but who certainly does know how to put a graceful shape on a melody. (His phrasing in "Falling Slowly," once he and co-star Cristin Milioti get past the song's deliberately tentative opening verse, is downright ravishing.)

And Milioti, taking the role originated by Hansard's Swell Season collaborator Marketa Irglova, is an astonishing discovery. Hers is a gorgeously grainy cello of a voice to Irglova's more waifish violin; the ache when she bends the lyric of "If You Want Me" upward over the verse's signature minor triad — "When I-i-i-i get really lonely" — is a chill-making thing, and she builds Irglova's song "The Hill" from a broken whisper to a torchy wail without letting it feel like a performance.

The actors in the stage production all play their own instruments (there's no separate orchestra), and the recording sessions for this album reportedly re-created the performance environment, in the interests of intimacy and fidelity. Rich with fiddle and guitar and snare and piano — "It Cannot Be About That" is an instrumental conversation among most of those, on the film's touchstone musical themes — it's not the sort of cast album that conveys story and character particularly well. As a recapitulation and reinterpretation of a musical romance, though, it's enormously satisfying — lyrical and lush, lively and heartbreaking and humane.

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