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Once a Ronan, always a Ronan - the music man

Published by: Kate Braxton on 23rd Nov 2014 | View all blogs by Kate Braxton


Since its West End opening in 2013, many have seen Once the musical and most reviewers have revered it. I actually chose to hit The Phoenix Theatre when a certain pop star took the lead role last week. Life is a Ronancoaster, I’ve just gotta write it.

Uniquely interactive from the start, theatre punters join cast members and musicians on stage for a drink. I sat taking photos, which is allowed at the outset. But once the theatregoers are gently encouraged off stage, the house lights stayed up for too long, which did weaken the mood positioning.

However, overall, Once is a joyous musical experience. Ronan plays Guy, a vacuum cleaner repairman and pub singer, opposite Girl, a Czech piano player. So the show has the carpet of an unconventional love story and despite the hike in prices to see Mr Boyzone, a pretty clean sweep enjoyed it. Occasionally raw, at times, raucous, with a symphony of Celtic ballads, I applaud everyone who’s been involved in bringing this show to The West End, and it will be going on tour next year.

So, to Mr Keating: He apparently never thought he’d ‘do’ a musical and has expressed being anxious about the experience. When the musical director gave him the anthem-like tunes such as Falling Slowly and Leave, it could have given him a complex.

But not Ronan. He and his Girl – played by Jill Winternitz - are well matched. There’s considerable effort required to get the timing right with this script and it’s not quite there yet, which made their relationship a touch unconvincing.  But it will get there very soon, because he can act, so can she. He plays guitar with passion, we know he can sing, and certainly doesn’t have a face for radio. And she’s equally gorgeous. Their comic moments were, well, cute but I still sensed nervousness during the performance.

Ronan hit some spectacular notes in the high range, with a fabulous belt followed by a crafted little sexy vocal crack (if you’ll pardon the expression). The cast are wonderfully talented together. They’ve got the Dublin Craic. There’s bounce, they blatantly love what they’re doing and they underscore the protagonists as a feisty and fun orchestra of actor-musicians.

ONCE - musicians.jpg

© 2014 Once London. All rights reserved. Photographs by Frank Ockenfels, Matt Crockett and Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

The stage set is very simple. We stay in the bar throughout. Nothing flown in, just a piano wheeled out and emotive lighting effects. But we do go to a bridge above the pub where Guy and Girl duet against a plain brick wall backdrop. Couldn’t help think of West Side Story. There's a place for us, and all that. Yet the giant distressed mirror at the back of the bar held my gaze. It reflects everything to the audience from two perspectives. One: Ours. Two: The characters’. A lovely piece of simple, visual and experiential trickery.

And on the subject of looking at oneself, Ronan and I did a selfie at the end. I know he’s considering further acting roles and I'd love to see him more than Once, hoovering up applause. Rather like Girl's knackered vacuum cleaner, this show “does not suck”. But it’s still hard not to think of him as Mr Boyzone.

Running until 21st March 2015 at Phoenix Theatre, London



  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 3 years ago
    Thanks, Kate. A wonderfully quirky review full of honesty.
  • Kate Braxton
    by Kate Braxton 3 years ago
    As my Irish friend says, "Cheers n' Ta" Cammy!
  • Charmian Walsh
    by Charmian Walsh 3 years ago
    This girl knows her theatre and reviews brilliantly. Keep reading what she writes because you will get the truth. She's also a fantastic producer!
  • Ian Wilson
    by Ian Wilson 3 years ago
    Great review for a change of lead in a already well loved musical. A refreshingly different review
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