Plaintive and rousing songs by Irish troubadour Glen Hansard and Czech musician Markéta Irglová, who appeared as mismatched would-be lovers in the picture and won the 2008 Academy Award for writing its hypnotic signature ballad, "Falling Slowly," populate the new musical. On stage, Steve Kazee has Hansard's role of Guy and Cristin Milioti has Irglova's role of Girl.
The songs from the film and subsequent songs by The Swell Season (Hansard & Irglová's band) — as well as Irish and Czech folk songs — are folded into the stage experience. Despite an April 2011 tryout at American Repertory Theatre in Boston, the rise of Once has been quiet, with NYTW and attached commercial producers saying yes to very few interview requests. Like the low-budget/high-grossing film before it, Once is waiting to be discovered, though it's no secret that Broadway producers are poised to carry the show to a wider life. Off-Broadway performances at NYTW continue to Jan. 15, 2012, representing a two-week extension. Tickets are becoming difficult to get.
Director John Tiffany and choreographer Steven Hoggett (collaborators of the acclaimed ensemble Iraq War drama Black Watch) commandeer a troupe of 13 actor-musicians — including Anne L. Nathan and David Patrick Kelly as Girl and Guy's mother and father — who are jamming even as the audience enters NYTW. The film's songs and other tunes are orchestrated and arranged by music supervisor Martin Lowe. Expect Guy on guitar, Girl on piano (as in the film) and a supporting cast on mandolin, melodica, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, accordion, bass, drums and more.
The songs do not seek to tell this simple story in a brash in-character way; this is a new era of show tune where music (and movement) punctuates and gives expressive life to the characters' moods and hopes. (After the Guy and Girl and their pals have a 24-hour recording session, there is an a cappella number that defies convention and description, and has helped create buzz for the show.)
Ritual, ensemble and community are at the core of the two-act musical. In previews, the idea of community has extended to the audience: At intermission, you can climb on stage and buy a drink in the pub designed by Tony Award-winning scenic designer Bob Crowley (Aida, The History Boys, Mary Poppins, The Coast of Utopia, Carousel), who also designed costumes. The lighting design is by Tony winner Natasha Katz (The Coast of Utopia, Aida).
The pub floor serves as the neutral ground for multiple scenes that reimagine the original screenplay by John Carney, who also directed the film and captured improvisation by Hansard and Irglová. (The humble stars fell in love during the making of the movie but have since parted; she's married to someone else now.) Irish playwright Enda Walsh, whose Misterman just opened to solid reviews at St. Ann's Warehouse, penned the libretto for Once, making Girl, a Czech immigrant, a much more active and twinkly muse for Guy. Walsh's plays include The Walworth Farce, Penelope and The New Electric Ballroom.
In addition to Kazee (known for Broadway's To Be or Not To Be, 110 in the Shade) and Milioti (NYTW's Little Foxes and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Broadway's Coram Boy), the cast of Once features David Abeles, Claire Candela, Will Connolly, Elizabeth A. Davis, David Patrick Kelly, Anne L. Nathan, Lucas Papaelias, Andy Taylor, Erikka Walsh, Paul Whitty and J. Michael Zygo.
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