Irish Ayes: Playbill Lifts a Pint at the Opening Night of Once the Broadway-Bound Musical

By Harry Haun
07 Dec 2011

Cast members Will Connolly and Anne L. Nathan
photo by Monica Simoes

To support Guy and Girl is a cast of 11 actor-musicians playing an assortment of characters and instruments — the kind of multi-tasking cast that director John Doyle is fond of assembling. "I've done two shows with John — but not musician shows," said Anne L. Nathan, an actress-pianist who learned to play the accordion for this show (she plays Girl's mother). "I was a nurse in Wings, and I was in Road Show at The Public. I love John so much I can't wait for him to see it."

Like the rest of the musical ensemble, David Abeles was "cast here in New York and then did the workshop in Cambridge [at A.R.T.] and then came to NYTW. There's no one in the show, actually, who's originally from Ireland or from the Czech Republic."

But the producers did supply a secret weapon, according to actor Paul Whitty: "Stephen Gabis is a brilliant voice coach, and he helped us with our dialects."

(Best-known of troupe is veteran character actor David Patrick Kelly, who started out in Is There Life After High School? and is now playing the Da of Guy.)

Tiffany, who said he came to the party disguised as "a gay geography teacher" (that's a narrow tartan tie and a beret), was a little amazed to find himself officially in charge of directing a musical. "Everything I've done has become a musical. I start out with straight plays and they become musicals — Bacchae and Black Watch — and this is the first one that's credited as having a musical book.

"The producers have been very courageous in their appointment of me as the director. I love this show so much, I love the music so much. I only saw the film after I was asked to work on this, actually. It was much bigger here than it was in Britain."

Steven Hoggett, Tiffany's directorial deputy, is credited in the program with "Movement," and that, he thinks, pretty much covers his contribution. "John and I had a conversation about what my title would be. I said, 'Choreography wouldn't be the right word because, with this kind of piece, if they dance, we're dead. It's over.'

Curtain call
photo by Monica Simoes

"It's people first. The characters have to go through a narrative, and we can move them and we can imagine how they might move, but I can't really see them dancing. I like finding ways where I ask actors to think of themselves as people first, and we make movements based on that. I want the audience to feel some things, and, if it looks a certain way, then great. But I only want the audience to feel something. I don't want the audience to see something that has no feeling behind it."

Set and costume designer Bob Crowley, who gets Tonys for fancier stuff than the Dublin tavern he puts forth here, filled the bill as asked. "Doing it as a bar wasn't my idea. We did it in a space in Boston that was like a bar and a club. We used the bar there, but it was black. It was all 1980s. It was like a club rather than an Irish bar, and then John said to me, 'Let's set it in an Irish bar,' and I went, 'Yeah. Okay. I get it. People tell stories and sing in bars.' That's what they did tonight."

He's something of a professional expert at bars. "This particular one is the son of The Iceman Cometh. William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life — that's a bar. I've done them all, so I know what to do. I know all the Irish bars. The best ones are here in New York." Before he gets it up and operative on Broadway, he'll go back to London to do a new play, Traveling Light at the National next month.

The Numero Uno of Once is producer Hart, who was pitched the property by the agent of the film's director, John Carney. "I looked the script over, and I didn't get it at first," Hart admitted. "Then, I saw the movie. Film is a two-dimensional medium, and the stage is three-dimensional. It just cried out to be a show."

Seconding that positive opinion were co-producers Barbara Broccoli and Frederick Zollo, and they were wised up by their 19-year-old daughter, Angelica. Zollo said, "She came to us and said, 'Just listen to it once, and you'll want to do it.' So we listened to the whole score, and she was right."

James C. Nicola, artistic director of NYTW, from which cometh Rent, was clucking contentedly at the party about his little hit-factory incubator and marveling at how easy it was this time: "It was a dream, the whole company — unbelievable actors, singers, players. It's not anything I've ever experienced. It has really inspired me because it seems to me, ultimately, at the bottom of it all, about the fact that human beings can gather together and make something beautiful as opposed to ugly or voracious or exploitative. The times we are living in are so ugly. This reminds us: Yes, we can actually be decent and beautiful."

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Curtain call
Photo by Monica Simoes