Thursday, 27 November 2014

Review: Ronan Keating stars in Once at the Phoenix Theatre

Phoenix Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 26th November 2014

When Once first opened in the West End there was a small gag in the script at Ronan Keating's expense. However, now the joke is on us as he is the fourth and final performer to step into the shoes of Guy in the West End production (the Keating joke has been replaced with a Michael Bublé gag).

Once is a brave show which dares to be different. It is stripped back and leaves nowhere for anyone to hide. The musical explores the unique connection shared between an Irish busker and a Czech mother. Their shared passion of music brings them together but their circumstances are complicated.

Although I've always struggled to connect to Once in the same way that many others do (I always presume I'm heartless when sat dry eyed at the end of the night whilst surrounded by emotional audience members), I greatly admire what it brings to the table. The music is raw. It is both simple and detailed; the cast play all the music live, filling the stage with tremendous joy.

I have seen Once many times and certainly enjoyed it more last night. There was an extra buzz in the air - the atmosphere was really exciting to be a part of. Keating has clearly attracted an even larger Irish audience as all the Irish gags received huge reactions; the audience were alive which made such a difference. There was one heckler, but otherwise the audience were very respectful (although when Keating changed his trousers some people lost all self-control). 

Keating's portrayal of Guy is impressive. His Guy is calmer and more hesitant. He shares good chemistry with Jill Winternitz (Girl), I particularly enjoyed their connection during the opening scenes.

Keating's vocal tone fits the score nicely; however, some of his harmony lines during 'Falling Slowly' and higher notes in 'Leave' have been adjusted to cater for his vocal range. People watching the show for the first time probably won't notice anything, but I was very much aware.

I've seen the three previous actors to play Guy so can confirm that Ronan Keating does a fine job. I absolutely take my hat off the the Boyzone star; I can't imagine a more nerve-wracking show to make a West End debut in as the piece is so exposed.

Overall Keating's performance is authentic, he is at his best when he lets go and has fun with his fellow cast mates. As he settles into the show I'm sure his performance will become nothing less than triumphant. 

Winternitz is strong as Girl. She performs with such charm and has done her own thing with the role. The entire cast share remarkable trust, together they are magical with particular stand out performances coming from Mathew Hamper and Tim Prottey-Jones whose comic timing is absolutely superb.

When Once opened it was hidden in The Book of Mormon's shadows. It has run along fairly quietly over the past year and a half so I am thrilled that it is finally Once’s turn to have its moment in the spotlight! Love it or hate it, it's wonderful that Once has made its mark and is getting everyone talking. I think Ronan Keating is a fantastic addition to the cast, the show feels fresh and exciting. 

Once is in safe hands and, come next March, it will be hugely missed by many.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Once runs at the Phoenix Theatre until Saturday 21st March 2015.

Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Mögenburg

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