How It’s New York: The show is happening at New York Theatre Workshop, one of New York’s premiere development sites– Rent started here. And, just got word last night that Once the musical is moving to Broadway.
How It’s Irish: It’s set in Ireland, of course, and the pub setting with music has an Irish flavor.
This piece about the atmosphere of Once was originally published in Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog.
‘Once’ the Musical Brings Audiences, and Drinks, Into the Action
By Gwen Orel
- Joan Marcus
- The cast of “Once” at New York Theatre Workshop.
Used to be, you couldn’t take your drink to your seats at the theater. At “Once,” the musical based on the 2008 film which opens Tuesday night at New York Theatre Workshop, not only can you take your drink to your seat, it’s for sale onstage before the show and during intermission. And there’s not just entrance music, there’s an entrance jam going on as the audience enters.
The set for the show, designed by Bob Crowley, is a large, semicircular bar. It’s a pub, although at times it’s other places, and the show encourages audiences to feel as if they’re in it. Before the show begins, musicians play onstage in a cross between an Irish seisún and a Slavic party. They trade riffs and tunes, and an older fellow ends with a song—the melancholy Irish song “Raglan Road,” with lyrics by Patrick Kavanagh. But they aren’t just musicians, they’re also the cast. Director John Tiffany uses the company as Greek chorus-like observers and stagehands. As he did with the celebrated production of “Black Watch,” the cast often watches the action. Playwright Enda Walsh, whose production of “Misterman” opened at St. Ann’s Warehouse Sunday night, wrote the book for “Once.”
While actors sometimes play instruments (John Doyle had them do it in “Company”) here the surprise is when the musicians morph into actors. You can’t fake the fiddle. In the program the actors are listed by their role, when in fact it’s often easier to think of the guy with the cello, or the drum player.
“Once” is a bittersweet love story about an Irish busker and a Czech musician who touch each other musically but stay apart romantically. The film featured music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, and “Falling Slowly” won the Academy Award in 2008 for Best Original Song. Music from the film is in the stage musical, sung by the two leads, Steve Kazee as the Guy and Cristin Milioti as the Girl. But they rarely sing alone. In film, an unseen orchestra sometimes provides underscoring, but in “Once,” the musical, the orchestra is onstage and part of the action.
The audience is also part of that action, particularly during intermission, when the set of the bar becomes the stage bar. For sale is red wine (a shout-out to a character who drinks red wine), Harp Irish Lager and Guinness. While the drinks are poured, musicians continue to jam.
“Once” is being performed at New York Theatre Workshop until Jan. 15.