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"Once" makes successful transition from screen to stage
On the night the stage musical adaptation of the film "Once" received eight Tony Awards, Glen Hansard "just had to take a walk" around New York City.
"We sat there at (the Tonys ceremony) and had a great time, and I just needed to take a big, long walk afterwards," says Hansard, 44, who along with then-girlfriend Martina Irglova starred in the "Once" film in 2007 and composed the music that was also used for the musical. "It was all so kind of mental. I just had to take a minute to take it all in and realize what an incredible gift this whole thing has been.
"It's grown beyond us all, really. It's been quite a road, a fascinating journey."
"Once" is indeed the little -- take your pick -- movie and musical that could. And did quite a bit.
The film, which tells the story of a struggling busker in Dublin (Hansard's Guy) who finds a much-needed muse in a young Czech immigrant (Irglova's Girl) -- was the brainchild of John Carney, Hansard's former bandmate in the Irish band the Frames. Made on a minuscule budget ($150,000), "Once" won audience awards at the Sundance Film Festival and Dublin Film Festival and grossed nearly $21 million in theaters, while Hansard and Irglova, who worked together as the Swell Season, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for their "Falling Slowly," while the entire soundtrack received the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Music and reached the Top 10 of the Billboard 200.
Taken to the theater stage four years later -- first at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., before moving on to Broadway starting in February of 2012 -- "Once -- A New Musical" rocked with a big box office and all those Tonys, including Best Musical (the songs themselves weren't eligible because they had been released already via the film), and four Drama Desk Awards. The cast recording also won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.
"I was very pleasantly surprised," says Irglova, who subsequently broke up with Hansard but shared an Outstanding Lyrics prize with him from Drama Desk. "When they produced us about the idea of turning the movie into a musical, I was very skeptical. I didn't see how it would work. I didn't see how something very simple was going to translate to a stage that's always looking to have a big boom and everything very dramatic and dynamic. So I was wondering how they were going to make it work."
She didn't go to see "Once" until one of the Broadway rehearsals, "and I was really impressed. They ended up staying true to the movie -- simple and down to earth, but they added this kind of edge that made it work better for the theater."
Some subtly muscled-up song arrangements and inventive staging certainly helped "Once" work in a live context. A house band of cast members plays before the show and during the intermission near a working bar that serves those attending the show. The cast also remains on stage throughout the production, shifting positions as the script requires.
"It was really magical when I saw it," says John Steven Gardner, the music captain for the touring company of "Once." Gardner who was "obsessive over the movie when it first came out" and was wary of the stage version when he first heard about it.
"I would say apprehensive was one word. Terrified was another word," says Gardner, 24, who also has speaking parts as Eamon, a musician who helps Guy and Girl record their songs. "It was just so near and dear to me, I didn't want to see it ruined." Gardner, in fact, didn't even go to see it on Broadway until he was in the midst of callbacks for the tour.
"I figured I should definite go and see the show if I might be doing it," he recalls with a laugh. "And it blew me away. They did it really well. They were very sensitive with the material."
In the wake of "Once," Hansard and Irglova found themselves in a new strata of the pop world. They released one more Swell Season album, "Strict Joy," in 2009 and were the subjects of a 2010 documentary. The group has on hiatus since 2011 as they've pursued solo careers, and while Igrlova says she's "very proud to have played any part in the creation" of "Once," Hansard -- a member of "The Commitments" cast who initially turned down the film role when Carney offered it -- acknowledges that the fame took some getting used to.
"There are certain times in your life when you just have to learn to accept what comes," he says. "One thing I learned with 'Once' was you have to accept what it brings, and it's been amazing. Whenever I found myself resisting anything to do with it I'd force myself to just accept it and have a lot of acceptance and humility about it.
"It's grown way beyond us, and now it's on to the theater people. They're having an amazing time with it, and I'm enjoying that, too."
"Once -- A New Musical"
Tickets are $35-$125
Fisher Theatre in the Fisher Building, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit
Call 313-872-1000 or visit www.broadwayindetroit.com for showtimes and ticket details.
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