REVIEW: Once, The Musical, is so good, why not see it twice this week? *****

Feel the chemistry Emma Lucia’s Girl and Daniel Healy’s Guy in Once , The Musical

Once, The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

THREE weeks into rehearsals at Toynbee Hall in London’s East End, the media were invited to a press day where director Peter Rowe and musical supervisor Ben Goddard put their 16-strong cast through their paces in exhilarating fashion.

Sometimes you can feel the magic in the air as early as that, sensing the chemistry between leads Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia and the bonding of the company of actor-musicians as they turned a rehearsal room into an Irish pub full of lusty singing and joyful playing.

You just knew the show was going to be good, but, glory be, it is even better than that. Having cherished John Carney’s micro-budgeted cult romantic Irish film starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova since 2007, yet aware that many still don’t know that charming movie, save maybe for its multi-award-winning song Falling Slowly, your reviewer urges you to fall immediately for this touring musical version. No time for slowness here.

Broadway, the West End and Dublin have all had a go at doing Once The Musical. Rowe and regular musical partner Goddard first united Scotsman Healy and Durham-born Lucia as Guy and Girl, jilted Dublin busker/vacuum cleaner repairman and immigrant Czech odd-jobs worker and musician, for shows in Ipswich and Hornchurch in 2018, and now they have found the  perfect format for a touring version.

What a Guy: Daniel Healy in Once, The Musical

Designed by Libby Watson, the setting is an Irish pub, crammed with pictures and chattering life, where the cast rally the audience with songs familiar from The Pogues, Chieftains and Dubliners to set the Dublin craic.

Scenes are played out against this backdrop, the musicians fading in and out of scenes, sometimes acting like a Greek chorus as they lean in, in response to what is unfolding between Healy’s Guy and Lucia’s Girl.

They are first encountered as she watches him busking in the chill streets, singing to his ex, now moved to New York, but still the subject of each pained song, although he is on the cusp of giving up on those songs too.

Girl is open, frank, funny for being so serious; Guy is taciturn, guarded, but the shared love of music speaks volumes and she needs her vacuum cleaner mending. It duly arrives as if out of thin air, shooting across the stage in one of the show’s many humorous moments.

Big-hitting Falling Slowly is not held back. Instead, it forms their first song together in Billy’s unruly music shop, tentative at first as she picks out the piano lines, to accompany his singing, then joining in, their voices entwining and overlapping beautifully. Gradually, one by one, the musicians join in too: fiddle, guitars, mandolin, cello, squeezebox and more, in union, in sympathy.

Emma Lucia’s Girl saying hello to the piano – which musicians should always do, she says

Here, in a nutshell, is why Once works wonders as a musical, being as much a celebration of the power of music in Dublin’s fair city as a love story of ebb and flow, rise and fall, surprise and revelation, over five all too short days.

The path of love is never smooth, as we all know, but for those who have never seen Once, it would be wrong to issue spoiler alerts of what ensues. Except to say, on the way home you will want to discuss how the open-ended story might progress, if you have any romantic bones in your body!

Healy and Lucia are terrific leads: who would not fall for either of them?! His Guy is generous, kind, a blue-eyed soul man of song and acoustic guitar playing; her Girl, his new Czech mate, is feisty, fearless in the face of adversity in her adopted city, and plays the piano exquisitely too.

Dan Bottomley’s hapless, bandy-legged, hopelessly romantic, fiery Billy pickpockets plenty of scenes and Ellen Chivers, last seen in York last summer in the Theatre Royal’s Swallows & Amazons, is even better as wild-spirited Czech Reza.

From Enda Walsh’s witty, whimsical, love-struck script to Hansard and Irglova’s impassioned songs, you must see Once, a wonderful show that blows away weeks of panto wars and politics, to herald a new year of theatre in York. In fact, it is so enjoyable, you could go not once, but twice…and make sure to arrive early to see York buskers Rachel Makena, Florence Taylor, Owen Gibson and Peter Wookie taking turns pre-show and in the interval in the foyer bar.

Charles Hutchinson

Why Once The Musical is a not Once but twice in a lifetime opportunity for Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia

Emma Lucia’s Girl and Daniel Healy’s Guy performing Falling Slowly in Once The Musical. Pictures: Mark Senior

DANIEL Healy and Emma Lucia are playing the lead roles together in Once The Musical not once, but twice.

They first did so in the regional premiere in Autumn 2018 at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.

Now, that production’s director and musical director, the regular team of Peter Rowe and Ben Goddard, have reunited the duo for the first British tour that opened this month (January) and will play the Grand Opera House, York, from February 3 to 8.

First a cult, micro-budget Irish film written and directed by John Carney in 2007, then a Broadway, West End and Dublin show, Once The Musical tells the uplifting yet yearning story of the hopes and dreams of two lost souls, a jilted Dublin street busker and a more positive Czech musician, who unexpectedly fall in love across five short days in the Southern Irish capital city.

“I’ve managed to fool a few people with my Irish accent, thinking I really must be from Dublin,” says Scotsman Daniel Healy:

The touring cast of 16 will be led by Scotsman Healy as Guy and Lucia, from Durham, as Girl, whose chemistry was apparent immediately when press and media were invited to meet the company three weeks into rehearsal at Toynbee Hall in London’s East End: a question-and-answer session introduced with rousing renditions of Irish pub and ceilidh songs and the show’s opening scene.

This peaked with Healy and Lucia’s performance of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s Oscar-winning signature song Falling Slowly, with all the actor-musician cast playing their part around them, “leaning into the story” in the pub setting.

Daniel’s relationship with Once goes back to “a long time ago”. “My first run-in with the show was when I was doing a show in LA [Los Angeles] called Backbeat and I had an audition for the Broadway version of Once but couldn’t do it because of various reasons,” he recalls.

“But then I understudied the lead and played one of the main characters, Eamon [the music studio manager where Guy and Girl record their album] in the London production, when I understudied Ronan Keating.”

Daniel Healy’s Guy, Emma Lucia’s Girl and Samuel Martin’s Bank Manager in Once The Musical

Daniel is a singer-songwriter in his own right, and friendship with the Boyzone singer turned into a co-writing partnership that elicited Keating’s single Breathe. “After he heard one of my songs, Ronan said, ‘I’d really like to write with you’, so I ended up writing six songs with him and touring with him in his band,” he says.

Emma saw Daniel in Once in the London production. “I was still at Mountview drama school, and doing Beautiful, the Carole King musical, on tour at the time [making her professional debut as Marilyn and understudying the lead role],” she says.

“Then I heard there was going to be a production of Once in Ipswich, and I know the musical director, Ben Goddard, from doing a couple of classes led by him at Mountview.

“You’d do all the songs you’d thought of doing for auditions and he’d give you tips and advice.”

Emma landed the role of Girl after two auditions, and it was only then that she met Daniel for the first time for rehearsals.

” I’ve always loved theatre,” says Emma Lucia. “My dad used to do a lot of am-dram and I knew it was something in my life I always wanted to do”

“Peter and Ben auditioned us separately and they must have felt we would have chemistry once we were put together,” she says. The partnership worked a treat – “we get on really well” – and there was immediate talk of a tour.

“But we needed a producer,” says Emma. “I didn’t think it was going to happen, so it was a quite a surprise when it did, but we’re so pleased,” says Daniel.

“The producers have given Peter and Ben complete control as they loved the show as it was in Ipswich.”

Hearing Emma’s Czech accent on stage in the rehearsal room and then her North Eastern one in the interview reveals how much work she put into preparing for the role. “I’d only met one person from the Czech Republic in my life, and briefly at that, so I contacted the Czech Embassy and they put me in touch with two Czech girls who were here for six months and loved the show!” she says.

It’s not like I’m playing Titus Andronicus, but I do empathise more with the human struggle than the musical one,” says Daniel Healy

“So, we met for a cup of coffee and talked about the show, and I recorded their voices and asked any questions that I felt I needed answering.”

Likewise, Daniel’s Dublin accent sounds spot on. “I think, without being big-headed, I’ve got an ear for accents,” he says. “I’d ask Irish friends too, and it’s all about not being afraid to ask.

“Though being Scottish doesn’t make it easier to learn because, when accents are close to each other, like these two, they’re actually more difficult to separate…but I’ve managed to fool a few people with my Irish accent, thinking I really must be from Dublin!”

Daniel and Emma’s instrumental skills are as important to their roles as their singing and acting. “My dad’s a guitarist, and I did musical theatre from the age of five, and TV dramas and films too, and I’ve now got a parallel career as a singer-songwriter,” says Daniel.

Emma Lucia as Girl in Once The Musical, playing the Grand Opera House, York, in early February

“I could never call myself a busker, but I have busked in the past, but I sympathise more with Guy’s struggle with not having the courage to follow through with his dreams when you hope you can make it as a singer-songwriter.

“It’s not like I’m playing Titus Andronicus, but I do empathise more with the human struggle than the musical one.”

Emma’s path to Once began with an itch to dance from the age of three. “I just couldn’t stand still,” she recalls. “Then I picked up on playing the piano [the instrument she plays in Once] at five years old.

“I’ve always loved theatre. My dad used to do a lot of am-dram [amateur dramatics] and I knew it was something in my life I always wanted to do.”

Exuding an air of positivity, she feels a strong connection with her role as Girl. “She sees it as her mission to help other people, and I empathise with that as I love to do that myself,” says Emma.

Once The Musical runs at Grand Opera House, York, from February 3 to 8. Box office: 0844 871 3024, at or in person from the Cumberland Street theatre.