Ronan Keating takes over the lead of the charming musical as it enters its final months.
It’s easy to sneer at star casting: the parachuting in of big-name performers from film or music, often with little stage experience, into long-running West End shows in a bid to get bums on seats.
And the appearance of former Boyzone star Ronan Keating in ‘Once’ – the show adapted from John Carney’s surprise hit film about an ordinary Dublin boy who meets an ordinary Czech girl and makes sweet music with her – will certainly guarantee a fair few bums.
However, ‘Once’ is no ordinary long-runner. With a book by Enda Walsh and direction by John Tiffany, it has redefined the possibility of turning a large-scale musical into an intimate event.
And Keating, it turns out, is definitely not to be sneered at. It might be a tad difficult in the early scenes to shift the image of the clean-cut, million-selling boyband star, and replace him with that of the Guy, a broken-hearted vacuum-repair man – a fact not helped, on opening night, by a tentative (and no doubt nervous) early performance from Keating. But overall, he inhabits the role with sensitivity and conviction; and after all, it is our job, as the audience, to forget the performer, and engage with the character (‘it’s acting, dear boy,’ as Olivier may have said).
Keating’s main strength is his musicianship: he does a superb job with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s gorgeous songs, as, for the most part, does Jill Winternitz as the Girl. The ensemble, too, is top-notch, especially Mark Carlisle as Da – his opening folk song is spine-tingling – and Jez Unwin as a repressed, music-loving bank manager. Maybe you’ve already seen ‘Once’, but it’s worth going again to witness unlikely sight of a manufactured pop star breathing new life into a show about the grassroots power of music.