Andy and I loved Once so much when we saw it in previews (on St. Patrick’s Day) that we immediately bought tickets to see it again (on Easter Sunday) with some friends. When we sat down, I was chagrined to find in the Playbill a notice that the male lead, the wonderful Steve Kazee, was out and that Guy would be played by his understudy, Ben Hope. After fuming for a few minutes, I decided to let it be an opportunity to experience something fresh! and possibly wonderful! And Hope was fine — quite a different performance from Kazee’s, and a little shaky out of the gate. Especially in the opening number, “Leave,” he overdid it with the understatement so that key words dropped out of hearing altogether. In his favor, he’s more of a reg’lar-looking Everyman with a nice voice, which suits the story about a street musician trying to give it a go. Ultimately, though, I did miss Kazee’s handsomeness and charisma and the chemistry he and Cristin Miliotti (below) have built up during the time they’ve been doing the show. But I still admired the show every bit as much as I did the first time around.
The curtain call morphed into the annual fundraising pitch for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. David Patrick Kelly, who plays the da, stepped forth and gave one of the most eloquent and touching speeches of this kind I’ve encountered. He made it very personal by first calling out the names of four fellow artists “gone too soon” from AIDS (including Reza Abdoh) and asked us to honor them and our own dearly departed with donations to help others struggling with life-threatening illness. Love that David Patrick Kelly — a real mensch.
And then later, the sad news that Steve Kazee had missed the performance to be with his mother as she passed away that day, after a long battle with breast cancer. Condolences to Kazee and his family.