Once Brings Out the Music Man in 2012 Tony Nominee Steve Kazee
By Adam Hetrick
For Tony Award-nominated leading man Steve Kazee, making music as the lovelorn "Guy" in Once is a synthesis of three passions.
"I cried," Kazee says of the first time the entire cast of actor-musicians sat down to play "Falling Slowly," the hit song from Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's score. "When the strings came in at the very beginning, I just got weepy. Even last night, during the final 'Falling Slowly,' I just got really choked up."
Kazee may stand center stage with guitar in hand, but he and his Tony-nominated co-star Cristin Milioti (on piano), work in harmony with the cast to tell a seamless story of words and music. "As musicians, once you play together so long, you start to get a vibe for each other, and we have all grown together as a company and we have a musical language that we can speak," he says.
The journey for Once began at the American Repertory Theater in 2011, prior to an Off-Broadway run at the New York Theatre Workshop last fall. It opened to acclaim on Broadway this spring.
Prior to his involvement with the stage production, Kazee was hooked on the 2006 film. "I've known these songs for so long. I'm a huge fan of the film, so I already knew how to play basically everything from it," he says.
According to Kazee, Tony-nominated Once orchestrator Martin Lowe was elemental in bringing the cast of actors together as a unified musical troupe. "We sat around and just played the music, spent hours of rehearsal on music alone and then moved onto script," he recalls. "Martin taught us the music and worked with us on timing and not only orchestrated it brilliantly, but coached us brilliantly."
For Kazee, who had Hansard and Irglová's music already part of muscle memory, there was a back-and-forth with Lowe to create the right emotional tone and dynamic.
"We collaborated quite a bit actually," he says. "I did have a pretty wide understanding of Glen's music, so I already had a feel for how things were to sound. But there were often times where Martin and I could talk about a song, and I could say, 'I feel like it does this,' and he would say, 'But maybe we should do this.' We had a great chemistry together from the beginning."
Kazee had been a musician long before he caught the acting bug, and Once gives him a chance to connect with audiences on three levels: as a musician, singer and actor. "It's the perfect job. For me, being a guitar player for 23 years, and a singer and actor for quite a while, to be able to do all three on a nightly basis and to be able to create through your instrument is amazing."
He also points out the emotional response audiences have when they experience the joy of watching actors create music on stage. "Like a friend of mine once said to me, 'An instrument is a divining rod between you and God, and he speaks through your instrument, even if you're not religious, whatever being is out there.' It's just the perfect marriage of three things I love."
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