A LETTER FROM LONDON: Once Goes Busking and Strange Interlude and Sweet Bird of Youth are Revived

By Ruth Leon
22 Jun 2013

Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitesic
Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitesic
Manuel Harlan

Subway travelers in London and New York are accustomed to being serenaded by a dizzying variety of musicians as we wend our weary way from one platform or line to another. We rarely pay attention but, when we do, we are amazed at how extraordinarily talented they are.

We forget, or may not know, that on both sides of the Atlantic, the musicians are auditioned before they're allowed to busk for us and only the best survive the rigorous selection methods. In New York, they even play on the platforms, which must be frustrating for them, as the noise of the trains drowns out their music.

A new trend has recently emerged of having star players testing the musical acumen of the passengers by playing incognito to see who stops and listens. Joshua Bell recently played Bach for an hour at a subway station in Washington DC as an experiment to see who would recognize quality and beauty when it wasn't labeled as such. A few people stopped briefly to listen and then hurried on. Only children, some as young as three, were truly enchanted by the vision of one of the world's greatest violinists, playing some of the world's greatest music. He earned $32. The previous evening he had played the same music at a sold-out concert where the tickets cost $100.

The London cast of the hit Tony award-winning musical Once have just done something similar, but with happier results. The entire cast, led by their star, Declan Bennett, became the first West End musical cast to busk on the London Underground. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of buskers on the tube, what we Londoners call the subway, the cast of Once spent two hours in Leicester Square station performing songs from the show alongside some of the station's regular buskers. From all accounts, they had a really good time.

Declan Bennett hasn't forgotten what life was like before he became a West End star. "As a singer-songwriter who has done my fair share of busking in the past, it was especially exciting today to have spent time at Leicester Square Tube with my fellow Once cast mates and some of London Underground's regular buskers. My role as the heartbroken busker 'Guy' in Once at the Phoenix Theatre is heavily inspired by my experiences before making the leap to become a professional performer. Today was a great way of reconnecting with that time."

It turns out that the London Underground licensed busking scheme currently fields around 170 to 200 active people, spread throughout 24 different stations. Who knew?



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