SLOC’s 96th Season Opener is a Grand Slam

It’s very unusual when a summer of theater is bookmarked by the same show. Two productions of the same musical; one by an incredibly respected professional equity company in early July and one by an iconic equally well-respected area amateur theatre company this week. Interestingly, the show in question is Once…not an over-the-top show that one often hears about productions being staged regularly. You don’t react with,” oh great, another production of X, let’s see if they can find something different or new to tell the audience”.

Schenectady Light Opera Company has set the bar quite high with the opening production of their 96th season. The talent in this cast runs so unilaterally deep that it is astounding. The twelve members all handle the tasks of singing, acting, and playing multiple instruments with ease and expertise.

Once, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova with book by Enda Walsh, is based on the 2007 movie of the same name. The action takes place in Dublin and deals with a depressed busker, “Guy”, who is about to give up singing when he is heard singing (what he thinks is for the last time) on the street by a Czech woman, “Girl”, who follows him relentlessly and insists he not give up on his dreams, both professionally, and those of the heart. 

The audience enters the theater amid what appears to be a party going on on the stage, or rather a perfectly conceived Irish pub. As the lights dim, the actors fall into the shadows,  the show is introduced, and the play begins in earnest. The cast feels so obviously at home in this construct that you are in Dublin in a pub. These are all friends, relatives, and acquaintances who support one another and pick up their instruments – guitars, violins, squeezebox, drums, piano – to be there and support the two leads musically as well as through the actual storyline. To gather a group of professional performers who can pull this off on stage and make it feel natural is at best a difficult thing. To put together a cast of amateur performers who can do it with the same ease is amazing. SLOC director James W. Alexander has assembled a cast that is nothing short of phenomenal. This cast runs in perfect parity with the equity cast of professionals seen earlier this summer and perhaps in some roles, even better. 

Within the cast, it is so difficult to pick out the shining stars, but Kevin O’Toole as the bank manager, Kim Kilby as Baruska, and Lindsey Dodd as the ex-girlfriend shone just a bit brighter. Ryan Ribeiro as Billy and A.J. Testa as Svec bring wonderful comic timing to their already full plates of singing and playing musical instruments. The cast has also mastered the Irish accent with perfection with the exception of Ribeiro who, while his performance was spot on, never seemed capable of maintaining the accent for any amount of time or consistency. 

The production also includes two classically trained dancers, choreographer Caley Alyce Lacey and assistant choreographer Andrei Bires, who appear on stage several times throughout the production adding yet another level of artistry and emotion through ballet/contemporary dance simply moving through a scene.

Nick Foster is Guy and Emily Rose is Girl, the two leads of Once. From the moment Guy begins Act One with the heart-wrenching “Leave”, you know you are in a for a great ride. Foster joins forces with Emily Rose for the second number, “Falling Slowly”, which happens to be the one song that has become the show’s most widely performed hit. Rose’s delivery as the Chech expat residing in Dublin is beyond perfection. She explains at their first meeting she is always serious and never kids. She becomes more and more lovable as the show progresses, and her musical talents absolutely soar through the play. 

Nick Foster returns to the SLOC stage in an absolutely perfect performance. He captures all the angst, warmth, love, and conflict that his character has to offer. His singing is stellar as is his guitar playing. 

Molly Water’s set design, Elizabeth Sterling’s musical direction, Rory Alexa’s costume design, and Laura Darling’s lighting all round out this amazing production. 

It is rare when you are able to say that the amateur production is equal to or perhaps better than the professional production… in this case, it would not be an understatement. 

What a way to kick off the season at SLOC. 
Once runs through September 25. Masks are required in the theater. For ticket information call 518-730-7370 or online at .

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