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ONCE Opens in Charlotte Next Week!

September 24, 2014

Once_550x315It’s true, people. The wait is finally over! ONCE, the winner of eight Tony Awards including BEST MUSICAL, comes to Belk Theater Tuesday, Sept. 30 and plays through Sunday, Oct. 5. There are very few tickets left, but if you act fast you can still nab a seat! CLICK HERE to see what is available.

Featuring an impressive ensemble of actors/musicians who play their own instruments onstage, ONCE tells the enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who’s about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights … but their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than your everyday romance. Emotionally captivating and theatrically breathtaking, ONCE draws you in from the very first note and never lets go. It’s an unforgettable story about going for your dreams … not living in fear … and the power of music to connect all of us.

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal from the ONCE Tour Company. © Joan Marcus

Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal from the ONCE Tour Company. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Want to know more? Read on to learn how this Academy Award-winning indie film sensation was transformed into a Broadway musical.

From the Big Screen to the Broadway Stage

 In 2007, the charming, off-beat Irish film ONCE opened to glowing reviews and quickly developed a fervent following. The touching, lyrical musical tells the story of two down-on-their-luck musicians, an angst-ridden Dublin street singer/songwriter who works as a vacuum repairman, and a Czech immigrant who sells flowers in order to support herself and her family. Girl (as she is known) initiates a friendship with Guy (as he is known), and in the course of a week, they make music together, fall in love and part, but not before changing each other’s lives. The movie’s stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, also wrote much of the score, and received an Oscar for their beautiful ballad, “Falling Slowly.”

ONCE is simultaneously graceful and gritty, and has a naturalism and intimacy that are generally best achieved in film. Which explains why the noted Irish playwright Enda Walsh was less than enthusiastic when he was asked to write a Broadway musical based on the movie. “I guffawed when my agent called and asked me to speak to the producers,” says Walsh. “I said, ‘What a stupid idea.’ It’s a two-hander with very little plot. It’s delicate. So I called the producers and told them it wasn’t for me. There’s no tradition of musical theater in Ireland, so I rubbished the idea. Then they told me John Tiffany was attached to it as director.”

The two men are longtime friends, and although Tiffany also had doubts as to the viability of the material as a Broadway musical, he convinced Walsh not to reject the idea outright. “John said, ‘Let’s just take two days, and we can read the screenplay and listen to the songs and talk about it.’ So I said, ‘Okay, we’ll do two days. And that’s all we’ll do.’”

Not quite. “Those two days convinced us that we wanted to do this show,” said Tiffany. That was the beginning of a journey that led to Broadway and eight 2012 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book (Walsh), and Best Direction of a Musical (Tiffany). The show became such a critical and commercial success that it spawned a London production and a U.S. national tour, which opened at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

“I never think about adapting films for the stage,” said Tiffany. “That’s not the way I work. And when I was approached about ONCE, I hadn’t even seen the film. But one of my best friends said, ‘You will love the music.’ So I downloaded the soundtrack, and absolutely loved it. I’d never heard music like that, and the music is the reason why I wanted to do the show. Not just the music itself, but the fact that it’s a story about creating music, a story about the healing power of music. Immediately I thought, ‘We’re going to be able to see actors create that music in front of us.’ That’s really exciting. Actors have played instruments onstage for years, but not always in a show about making music.”

The 12 adult members of the cast play at least one instrument, and are onstage virtually throughout the show. “I didn’t want anyone onstage who we didn’t get to know intimately,” said Tiffany. By individualizing each character, Walsh said, “we built a community, and that became the heart of the piece. They’re an ensemble of misshapen people who sing and tell the story. Watching them play the music and sing and find their voice is very beautiful and very strong. But in addition to making it about community, we also wanted the show to be hugely communal. So how do we do that? We allow the audience onstage.”

Prior to the start of the show, the audience is welcome to come onstage and mingle with the cast, who are having a jam session. This bonding ritual doesn’t merely break the fourth wall; it obliterates it. “We wanted the audience to own the experience,” said Walsh. As the show unfolds, the focus is, of course, on the relationship between Guy and Girl, but the audience also catches glimpses of the lives of the other characters. “We needed to be sure that there are all these other love stories in the air. Each person is riffing off a love that’s been lost, that got away. That was the key: for the audience to feel part of the experience, and also to look at the people on the stage and go, ‘They’re us.’”

The material has proved to be as powerful onstage as it is on film. “I think what’s very moving about the piece is how sometimes we meet people who we don’t necessarily stay with forever, but they give us the resources to move on to the next part of our life,” said Tiffany. “There’s something very truthful in that. People have said to me, ‘When I was sitting in the theater watching ONCE, I felt like I was watching it with everyone I’ve ever loved, whether or not they’re still in my life.’”

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