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

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07 Dec 2011

Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee
Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee
Photo by Monica Simoes

Meet the first-nighters, including Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, at the Off-Broadway opening of the Broadway-bound musical Once, inspired by the Dublin-set film about lovestruck musicians who are "falling slowly."


The bar that sprawled across the New York Theatre Workshop stage Dec. 6 was wide open to first-nighters, and drinks were on the house. Then — once Once had run its Act One course — the audience resumed its pre-show party position, returning to the stage at the intermission for more free-pouring and free-flowing.

"We'll continue that drink policy when the show goes to Broadway," promised John N. Hart Jr., one of the lucky seven producers who announced right before the show began its Off-Broadway run that it would indeed go to Broadway, starting previews Feb. 28 for a March 18 opening at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Once comes from the same-named 2007 cult-hit film, with a slightly expanded song score by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová and huge chunks of director John Carney's original script (left intact by adapter Enda Walsh). It's your basic Guy meets Girl story — that's their sole identification in the film and play — he is a Dublin busker, and she is a Czech immigrant, and a mutual love of music pulls them into a romantic relationship that is not meant to last.

Such is the power of love and of music. You need look no further than their big hit from the film, "Falling Slowly," an urgent, surging, hypnotic power-ballad that won Hansard and Irglová an Academy Award for Best Song. It also helped their $150,000 Irish indie, shot in 17 days, to gross more than $20 million worldwide.

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
photo by Monica Simoes

The fabled Phebe's, a block from the East Village theatre, was the site of the opening-night party, which followed the two parties on stage, and Act Two. Talk about a show with buzz!

It prompted Irglová to reflect on how "Falling Slowly" fell into place: "I remember Glen had this idea for the verse, and he was humming that and picking it out on the guitar in the kitchen of my parents' house. I said, 'Wow! What's that?' because it sounded really pretty, and he said, 'Oh, it's just an idea. It's not really a song or anything.' I said, 'You should work on that.' He said, 'Okay, help me with it. Let's sit down at the piano.' And from that we rewrote the bridge and the chorus, and I started singing the harmony." Two crucial contributions that Irglova made: the three-note jump in the main theme — and she thought it sounded better on his voice.

Between both Onces falls "The Swell Season," a black-and-white documentary that chronicles the three-year U.S. tour Hansard and Irglová did with their band, The Swell Season. Its filmmakers (Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis) also chronicle where love has gone — how the movie-made sweethearts fall out of love during the rigors of the road.

Irglová, in fact, married another in June, Tim Iseler, a music engineer who engineered her first record last January. It was released in October under the title of "Amar," which is the Persian word for pomegranate. Next, she said, she'll "record another album in March and do some shows with my band. Glen's just making his own records as well in New York, but I don't know when that's coming out."

The two sat together at the premiere, beside their respective partners, and kept a cool demeanor throughout. "I wasn't nervous, but I was really excited," she said. "I felt very honored and proud. In my mind, I kept going, 'Thank you. Thank you for having been blessed with the movie, having been blessed with the music, having been blessed with this play, having been blessed with meeting Glen and John Carney. And now these actors, really beautiful people, who are pouring their own hearts into it."


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