PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Once — More, with Feeling

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19 Mar 2012

Steve Kazee; guests Nick Jonas, Kristin Chenoweth and Michael Cerveris
Steve Kazee; guests Nick Jonas, Kristin Chenoweth and Michael Cerveris
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway opening of the new musical Once, now playing the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.


St. Paddy's Day went into extra innings March 18, with a Dublin pub on stage at the Jacobs dispensing brew before, and midway through, the opening of Once.

Early arrivals—and those who'd seen the show Off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop—bellied up to the bar, which was free and free-flowing, while other first-nighters and assorted celebs clustered unawares in front of the theatre.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who starred in—and song-scored--the 2006 cult indie smash on which the show is based, made their way through the paparazzi pandemonium into the theatre, both trying their best (and unsuccessfully) to not look like Cinderella at the ball. Theirs was a miracle movie, made in 17 days for $200,000 and grossing almost into the rarified eight-digit area.

Not the least of its selling points was their urgently soaring song, "Falling Slowly," which wound up winning 16 international awards out of 20 nominations, including the Oscar for Best Song of the Year. It was a true collaboration. He started off with a melody, and she suggested the three-note increment that stretched the heart of the song. She also stepped aside and let him take the main melodic line because she thought it wore better on his voice, joining in with some perfectly pitched backup.

There are 15 more numbers where this came from, and the show ticks them off, bookended by "Falling Slowly," exquisitely delivered both times by the stage facsimiles for Hansard and Irglova, Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti.

Both are actors first, working in a musical-theatre situation and executing a gentle, Everydude sort of a story. Guy, a guitar-strumming street busker on a break from his da's vacuum-cleaner repair shop, meets Girl, a piano-playing Czech single-mom with a broken vacuum cleaner. They handily strike a deal—her music for his repairs—and a collaboration, personal as well as professional, is born. The bittersweet hitch is that they communicate feelings in song without committing to them in real life.


Originally, the screenplay by the director, John Carney, was mostly his own story but, in the playing and living of it, became something of a reality for the two actors. Although Hansard and Irglova ran the press gauntlet together, his girlfriend and her husband were waiting in the wings. Their coming-together and coming-apart got candidly chronicled in a post-script documentary to "Once" called "The Swell Season," covering their chaotic U.S. tour after they scored the Oscar.

The big scene-stealer in "The Swell Season" is not a musician but Hansard's mom, who is constantly busting her buttons over her son's Oscar. And, yes, as a matter of fact, she was a beaming presence at his Broadway debut—in spades.

Irglova had some kin in attendance as well. "I am really thrilled to be here and to have brought my family over here to see it," she admitted happily, "and I'm very proud of those guys who've done the play. It's their accomplishment, actually."

Hansard did a little dirt-kicking, also. "It feels amazin'! It's such a bizarre, beautiful, kinda odd honor to be here. The whole thing is about done now, so we're just here to show our support in the audience with our fists in the air. Really, it's theirs now."

The idea of turning this quiet little charmer of a film into a Broadway musical belongs to John N. Hart Jr., who produced it (in association with New York Theatre Workshop) and with the Frederick Zollos (Barbara Broccoli), The Shubert Organization, Patrick Milling Smith, Brian Carmody, Michael G. Wilson, Orin Wolf and Robert Cole—major stretcher-bearers for such a fragile piece.

"When I saw it in a movie theatre and was moved by it, I thought, 'Music is part of a three-dimensional medium, and film is two-dimensional. If anything belonged in a theatre, it was this.' Getting it right was the challenge, and John Tiffany got it right."

A major force at the National Theatre of Scotland, Tiffany was an offbeat bet for Broadway. His Olivier Award-winning Black Watch at St. Ann's Warehouse and The Bacchae for the Lincoln Center Festival are as close as he has come.


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