For several years, Cristin Milioti, whose New York theatrical credits include Coram Boy, That Face, Stunning, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, has been trying to land a role in a Broadway musical, and that wish has finally been granted in one of the season's hottest tickets, the critically acclaimed Once, which is based on the Oscar-winning film of the same name about an Irish singer-songwriter named Guy (Steve Kazee), who meets a muse in the person of a Czech immigrant named Girl (Milioti). The musical at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, featuring direction by John Tiffany and movement by Steven Hoggett, borrows the 2007 movie's songs by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who also played the would-be lovers in the film, with the addition of two other numbers. Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Milioti, who is offering a beautifully layered and touching performance in the new musical, which celebrates life, love and the power of music; that interview follows.
Question: How did Once come about for you originally?
Cristin Milioti: Well, I was asked to audition for it for when it was just going to be a two or three-day reading. This was about a year ago; this was last February. I auditioned for the role of the Girl, but I didn't know that it had actually already been cast before auditions. And so I played Réza, the girl flatmate, but John Tiffany and I hit it off right away in the audition. I did the three-day reading, and I had a great time with Steven Hogget and [music supervisor] Martin [Lowe]. Then I just figured I was done, and I would never see anyone ever again. [Laughs.] And, I went on my way. Two days later, my agent called me saying that John wanted me to audition for the role of the Girl, but there was concern over my piano ability because I can't sight-read. And, I've never been able to play a piece with each hand doing a different thing. I've been able to play basic chords. I played a Regina Spektor song for him when I auditioned, and it was real simple—her stuff isn't simple, but it was like C chord, G chord, D chord. So they gave me 10-12 days to learn two pieces—to learn "The Hill" and a classical piece of my choosing. And, it was a harrowing ten or 12 days! I just sat for seven hours a day, and my friend, Santino Fontana—who you may know—he's a trained pianist, and so he helped me. I have an incredible group of friends—they would watch me, so I could mess up in front of them, so I wouldn't be nervous when I went in. After ten or 12 days, I learned these two pieces and went in and played them, and that got me the job in Cambridge, which I sort of felt was like an extended audition process—it's a five-week workshop. And, after that they asked me to come to New York Theatre Workshop. It just evolved. Looking back on it, it was almost like every event leading up to it was very much kismet.
Question: How familiar with the movie were you before that first reading? And, did you go back to it?
Milioti: I've still never seen it.
Milioti: Yeah. No, I've never seen it. When they called me about the reading, I vaguely remembered there was a movie called "Once." What appealed to me was that I would be able to sing and play piano because I love doing that so much, and I've auditioned for musicals for years, and no one would have me. [Laughs.] I was really excited because I [thought], "Well, this sounds like it's something that I fit" because I don't think my voice necessarily fits traditional musical theatre, so I was really excited about that. And, I don't know any of the music from The Swell Season or The Frames. Still, I actually don't, except for the songs in the show, but I do plan on seeing the film when all is said and done.
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