This is, quite simply, a beautiful show. To start with, it’s a beautiful story, gentle, tender and intimate, in the tradition of Light In the Piazza and A Man Of No Importance. It’s also a very unique kind of love story rarely seen on Broadway, or anywhere else for that matter. Based on a simple, bare-bones Indie film from 2007, it relates a beautiful, low-key story of love and art between two singer-songwriters.
The script is superb, with the relationship between the leads (who, in the interests of making the story more universal, are never given names) written with impressively conscientious naturalism, with little openly expressed…and indeed, they part without ever acknowledging that there was anything between them. The characters are beautifully drawn, he a charming, brooding slacker who’s lost his sense of direction and she a solemn, Gibraltar-like visionary who refuses to give up on him.
The ending is certainly palpably bittersweet, but it’s not so much a story of love lost as it is a story of love never quite found. Admittedly, the two leads come closer to acknowledging the odd connection between them here than they do in the original film, but they still never quite speak the words.
It’s also a beautiful production. The stylized Irish-flavored choreography is exhilarating, and the show makes a much more natural-feeling use of the technique where the cast plays its own instruments than John Doyle’s productions ever did.
But above all else, this is an unbelievably beautiful score, the most beautiful heard on Broadway since Spring Awakening, five years earlier. The songs contain most of the show’s emotional content, since all the unspoken attraction, affection and yearning between the show’s main characters is expressed almost entirely through the songs they write together.
Written by the film’s lead actors, who in fact had a very similar relationship in real life, these songs constituted the finest original score for a musical film in the entire length and breadth of the decade. Indeed, despite the film’s relative obscurity and lack of fanfare, the film’s most memorable song, “Falling Slowly”, managed to win a well-deserved Oscar for Best Song. And while this score will perhaps always sound best when sung by its original singer-songwriters, Broadway leads Steve Kazee and Christin Milioti did an impressive job of bringing them to life onstage.
The film would eventually receive the vindication it deserved when its stage adaptation became a Broadway smash hit and the Tony winner for 2012. Given the increasing trends toward raucous comedy and splashy razzle-dazzle productions on Broadway, it seems odd, even bizarre, that the show to cause one of the biggest sensations in years was an intimate, bittersweet, atmospheric story of two ordinary people in what may or may not be love, but I don’t think anybody is complaining.