Many Brits and Irish have long been fans of the 2006 indie film Once, especially for the music by Glen Hansard, known for his band The Frames and appearing in The Commitments: the song he wrote with co-star Markéta Irglová, ‘Falling Slowly’, won them an Academy Award for best song. The plot of the film, as is typical of many indie films, is not necessarily a happy one and the film doesn’t r0und off with a clichéd ending. But it is adorable. So I was beyond excited to hear it was going to be a stage musical.
The confusing part is that although Once is an Irish film and the musical’s creative team is largely Anglo-Irish, the musical had its workshop and world premiere in New York at the Off-Broadway theatre The New York Theater Workshop. Due to its success, the show transferred to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway, where it has been playing for over a year. It was also very successful at the 2012 Tony Awards, winning best musical, best book of a musical, best actor in a musical, best direction of a musical, best scene design, best orchestration, best sound design and best lighting design.
It is sad that such a successful and different show, with its use of actor-musicians and minimal set, had to start life in New York. London has small off-West End theatres but not in the same way New York has off-Broadway and even off-off-Broadway. It was perhaps for the best it got to be nurtured at the Theater Workshop which has also helped develop the musical Rent and premier work from playwrights such as Tony Kushner. I am unsure if we could have created such a loveable show here in the UK or if we had if it would have been taken to the hearts of Broadway as it has been on being transferred.
However it has now been taken to our hearts in London, too, and the UK production opened last month at the Phoenix Theatre. Interestingly with a lead actor, Declan Bennett, who is a British performer but spent the past seven years working in New York on shows such as American Idiot. He originally auditioned for the role of Guy on Broadway before being asked to take the role in London. The British connection is being deepened in New York currently as two British performers Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who’s Rory) and Joanna Christie (Equus opposite Daniel Radcliffe) have just opened as the new lead characters.
Once is one of those musicals that seems to come along every so often and just dismisses what a musical has to be. It is not a loud megamusical and neither is it a traditional musical comedy, as some of the creative team have been quoted as saying “it is a show that celebrates music”, which is perhaps why it excites me so much.