The difficulty of bringing an intimate musical to Hollywood’s supersized Pantages Theatre manifests itself even before Once starts.
The gimmick is that audience members can go onstage, buy beer and wine, and hang out until the performers enter for a charming preshow concert. That may have been easier to manage when the show opened off-Broadway, at the 198-seat New York Theatre Workshop, in 2011. But here, the stage gets full and lines form in the aisles — it’s clear that 2,703 people can’t fit.
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The scale of the story — about a Dublin street singer and the Czech immigrant who changes his life — also is dwarfed by the theater. And when a simple plot (the book is by Enda Walsh) gets blown up into 2½ hours, the conflicts start to feel a little manufactured. The experience is like seeing a folk-rock concert; your mind wanders instead of investing in every moment.
Still, it’s useful wandering, a testament to the songs by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who starred in the film on which the musical is based. The show’s sincere take on love manages to be affecting, and is nicely offset by the no-nonsense comic bite of Dani de Waal, who plays the “Girl.” Director John Tiffany has the cast double as musicians, which helps the misfits who surround the central pair lend the show a pleasing texture.
Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; through Aug. 10. (800) 982-2787, hollywood?pantages.com.