Sam Cieri and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy from the ONCE tour company.

Image: Joan Marcus

Considered one of the best things to happen to Broadway in the past decade, ONCE is a truly original Broadway experience. Galveston’s Grand 1894 Opera House proudly presents ONCE for two captivating and breathtaking performances Saturday, November 16 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 17 at 3 p.m.

Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and a 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album, 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 and their unlikely connection turns out to be far deeper and more complex than an everyday romance. ONCE is the unforgettable story that draws you in from the very first note and never lets you go. This is a story about going for your dreams, not living in fear, and the power of music to connect us all. 

The ONCE tour company.

Image: Joan Marcus

From the big screen to Broadway: How the Academy Award-winning indie film sensation was transformed into the 8-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical

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 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 ways, but not before changing each other’s lives. The movie’s stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, 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.”

Sam Cieri and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy from the ONCE tour company.

Image: Joan Marcus

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,” says 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.

The 12 adult cast members play at least one instrument, and are onstage virtually throughout the entire show. “I didn’t want anyone onstage who we didn’t get to know intimately,” says Tiffany. By individualizing each character, adds Walsh, “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.” 

Bristol Pomeroy and Jenn Chandler from the ONCE tour company.

Image: Joan Marcus

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,” says 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,” says Tiffany. “There’s something very truthful in that. People have said to me, ‘When I was sitting in the theatre watching ONCE,  I felt like I was watching it with everyone I’ve ever loved, whether or not they’re still in my life.’”

Tickets may be purchased at The Grand’s Box Office, 2020 Postoffice Street, by calling 409.765.1894 or 800.821.1894, or online at www.thegrand.com.

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