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Theater Review: 'Once' -- 4 stars

Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee in "Once." (Joan

Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee in "Once." (Joan Marcus) Credit: Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee in "Once." (Joan Marcus)

4 stars

This season on Broadway, song is better than sex and the most thrilling romance you'll encounter is entirely unconsummated.

"Once," the heartfelt and heartbreaking new musical based on the 2006 low-budget Irish film of the same name - best known for featuring the Oscar-winning ballad "Falling Slowly" - has made a clean transition from New York Theatre Workshop in the East Village to Broadway.

The plot is simple and sentimental: On a Dublin street corner, a young heartbroken singer-songwriter, referred to appropriately enough as just "Guy" (Steve Kazee), expresses his sorrow at losing his girlfriend by performing with his guitar.

One fine day, the ever so dazed and helpless Guy is discovered by Girl (Cristin Milioti), an absolutely dynamic Czech immigrant and single mother who is quickly convinced of Guy's enormous talent and encourages him to record an album of songs.

Although the musical remains a very faithful adaptation of John Carney's film, John Tiffany's visually stunning production is performed by a thoroughly talented 12-member cast of actors who double as musicians and play musical instruments throughout the show.

Even before the show formally begins, the cast is already onstage playing up a storm in a rousing jam session on Bob Crowley's mirror-filled barroom set. Audience members can even join them onstage and order a beer.

The songs, written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who co-starred in the film, represent the kind of confessional indie-pop that is rarely heard on Broadway.

While Kazee is perfectly credible as the unsure and distant Guy, Milioti is a sheer force of nature as the aggressive, quirky and playful Girl, capturing the talents of a life coach, comedian, agent, cheerleader and entrepreneur all rolled into one.

Steven Hoggett's striking movements, featuring a large amount of stomping, add a ritualistic intensity, and Natasha Katz's elegant lighting design suggests numerous locations.

If you go: "Once" plays an open run at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. 242 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200,

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