That seems to be the overarching message of this magical musical that is at the Boston Opera House through January 19. Originally a film, the musical adaptation of Once emerged from the creative genius of Irish playwright Enda Walsh in 2011, and it's come full circle in Boston: the adaptation debuted with American Repertory Theatre in 2011, won 8 Tony Awards after its transfer to Broadway in 2012, and now returns as a Broadway in Boston production.
In the tradition of the great Irish writers - Joyce, Yeats, Wilde, Beckett - this production explores the depths of human desperation and how we re-charge our souls through expression. The protagonists in Once are known simply as Guy and Girl, who are played brilliantly by Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal, respectively. Guy is a down-on-his-luck busker whose songs evoke deep sadness and Girl is a Czech immigrant with a young daughter who is haunted by Guy's enchanting ballads. His songs become her sustenance, and when she says to him "don't be sad, you must sing," she hits on the essence of the musical: when fear and despair threaten to destroy, fight back through expression. Guy has forgotten this. Girl reminds him. His "life has stopped" and she puts it in motion again.
So many aspects of Once are beautiful and unorthodox. The main characters have both endured lost love and crushing sadness, and in sensing each other's hurt they are drawn together. His songs stir something deep inside of her, and she literally forces him to bring the songs to a wider audience. He's on the verge of giving up, right on the brink, when he declares "it's easier to walk away." And Girl simply responds, "I won't allow you to."
You only live once, and together these characters realize - and share with the audience - that the peculiar allure of giving up, of "wasting your life because you are frightened," can and must be overcome. All it takes is a recommitment to love and life, and as these characters save each other they also fall in love. Yet Once refuses to follow a typical script aimed at bringing the protagonists together happily ever after. Such a trite ending would contradict the powerful forces of human emotion that are so palpable throughout the performance. It's not about falling in love and living happily ever after, it's simply about living and not giving up on love even if it bites you.
The score is fantastic. From the powerful hit "Falling Slowly," to the raw emotion of "When Your Mind's Made Up," and the delicate sadness behind of "If You Want Me" and "Gold," the songwriting is so poignant. Time is winding down to check it out in Boston. Don't miss the opportunity.