'Once' enchants in screen-to-stage move

Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in a scene

Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in a scene from Broadway's musical "Once " directed by John Tiffany at the New York Theatre Workshop. (Credit: Joan Marcus)

It is hard not to oversell the wonderful strangeness of "Once," the enchanting little musical that moved to Broadway after a winter run at the New York Theatre Workshop.

The show, an expansion of the 2006 indie film that won an Oscar for best song, is not strange in its plot (a heart-tugging romance) or its setting (a tavern in Ireland) or its party-theater desire to draw audiences onstage (before curtain and at intermission) for a drink or a dance.

What's strange is the big-time boldness of its small-scale originality. This meet-cute invention about a glum (but never dull) Dublin guitarist and a delightfully solemn (if, for some, a bit winsome) pianist from Czechoslovakia manages to combine both irresistible sensibilities into a folk-pop, Irish/Eastern European chamber musical with the charm of a fable and the hipster immediacy of wit.

It's a relief to report that the production has lost nothing in its uptown expansion. Thirteen extraordinarily individual actor-musicians play their parts as well as fiddles, banjos and more exotic instruments. Like the movie, the show has heady and primal songs by Glen Hansard, the real-life Irish guitarist who played the character called Guy, and Markéta Irglová, the real pianist who played Girl.

But the musical, with its beguiling book by Enda Walsh, also has the team's new songs, equally strong, with hypnotic rhythms, gorgeous harmonic blends and insinuating melodies that make unexpected interval leaps seem natural and easygoing. Guy is still played with endearing slacker sweetness by Steve Kazee. Cristin Milioti remains pert and odd, with a forthrightness it would be wrong to mistake for pat adorableness.

He fixes vacuum cleaners. She has a broken one, which mysteriously appears, as does her upright piano, when needed. All this is thanks, and I do mean thanks, to the constantly surprising direction by John Tiffany, as well as the rousing stomping dances and dreamlike rituals choreographed by Steven Hoggett (both wizards from the Scottish war-masterwork "Black Watch").

Nothing happens -- moment to moment, scene by scene, note by note -- that goes in anticipated directions. The keenly observed cross-cultural costumes and deceptively simple set are by Bob Crowley ("The Coast of Utopia"). On the walls of the bar, old mirrors of different sizes reflect and distort reality. The dizziness feels right.

IF YOU GO:

WHAT "Once"

WHERE Jacobs Theatre,

242 W. 45th St.

INFO $59.50-$131.50; 212-239-6200;

oncemusical.com

BOTTOM LINE Enchanting, peculiar, wonderful new show

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