Granted, I've only seen one of the nominees, but don't be surprised if ''Once'' wins the Tony Award next month for Best Musical.
My wife and I went to see the musical on an all-too-brief vacation to New York City last week. It is based on the low-budget Irish movie of the same name that won a 2008 Academy Award for Best Song with ''Falling Slowly.'' The story is about a relationship between a thirtysomething Irish street musician who is prepared to give up music and a younger female Czech immigrant. Circumstances keep the characters, identified only as Guy and Girl, apart romantically, forcing each of them to channel their passions into their musical collaboration.
The movie is a fragile, delicate gem, not the kind of story that is obvious source material for a big Broadway production. But Enda Walsh, who wrote the book, and director John Tiffany preserve what was special about the film and make it work in a live setting. My only minor gripe was the decision to play Girl's accent for laughs in the first act, but it doesn't undercut the dramatic tug of the piece.
One of the unique touches for the show is that the primary set is an Irish pub, and audience members can walk up on stage before the show starts, get a beer or a glass of wine from the bar and stay on stage for a jam session featuring many of the cast members. As nice as the music was, it was great to get an up-close look at a Broadway set and then see how that craftwork is put to use in the production. The different shaped mirrors that adorn the walls produce some stunning images when coupled with the stage lighting.
I was also surprised to see that Guy's father is played by David Patrick Kelly, who played Luther in ''The Warriors'' (''War-ri-ors, come out and pla-a-yay"). Turns out he can sing and play mandolin as well as kill gang leaders and frame his rivals.
We also saw ''Gore Vidal's "The Best Man,'' which is nominated for Best Revival of a Play. It has no chance of winning - it appears the Philip Seymour Hoffman-starring production of ''Death of a Salesman'' is a lock for the award - but it was an entertaining show and surprisingly timely despite being written nearly 50 years ago. Two candidates battle it out for their party's presidential nomination. One is principled, excepted when it comes to honoring his marriage vows. The other will do anything to get elected.
The themes of Vidal's script still reverberate today, but the main lure of the show is its cast, which includes James Earl Jones (who, in a bit of colorblind casting, plays a former U.S. President in a show set in 1960), Angela Lansbury, John Larroquette, Eric McCormack, Candice Bergen, Kerry Butler, Jefferson Mays and Michael McKean (until he was hospitalized after being hit by a car on Tuesday). That cast has nine Tony Awards, two Academy Awards and multiple Emmy Awards among them.
Without its star power, ''The Best Man'' might not fare as well on tour, but the producers of ''Once'' are planning to take it on the road. Hopefully, PlayhouseSquare will bring it to Cleveland as part of its Broadway series.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at grayareas@ tribtoday.com