Photo by Joan Marcus

True Romance

Once, an Irish musical film starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, is not just a literal Guy-meets-Girl-story, but also a modern fable of learning to push past the career-killing phrase: “once I get things straightened out, then…”

Defying its low-budget odds, Once become the sleeper hit of 2007. The soundtrack (written by Hansard and Irglová) was subsequently nominated for a Grammy Award and the film’s hit song, “Falling Slowly” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

In an equally improbable move, Once took the leap from screen to stage, opening on off-Broadway in 2011 and moving to Broadway in 2012. Set in an Irish pub, which also acts as a working bar for the audience during the pre-show, the Tony award-winning musical follows the electric encounter between a Dublin busker and a Czech pianist as they suddenly decide to record a demo album together.

Now on tour, Once is the final show of the Columbus Broadway Series. (614) spoke with Stuart Ward, who is currently touring as Guy, and Dani de Waal, who plays opposite him as Girl about music, love and getting what you want.

Is Once a romance or a near-romance?

SW: It is a romance—perhaps a tragedy to the true romantic. It’s not your average Disney fairy-tale though…which I think is quite refreshing for an audience as well. Those kind of stories get drilled into us from a very early age, but this is more of a modern romance of people needing each other and then moving on with their lives. It’s different, but I think that’s part of the appeal.

DDW: I think it’s a modern-day love story. Definitely, there’s romance in it. It’s about two people who do fall for each other and share a love of music and life, but it’s not a traditional girl-meets-boy and happily-ever-after story. It’s real, you know. They both have complications in their own lives and baggage. The overriding message is about following your dreams and your goals and not being stopped by fear, and not getting clouded by things from your past that are holding you back; kind of moving forward and pushing for what you really want out of life.

Are you a musician?

SW: I am a musician, yes. I’m a songwriter as well, so I have my own album out called Pictures. I actually do signings quite a lot of the time after the show in the theater lobby. This role is kind of tailor-made for me in a way. When it first came out I thought, “Wow, this is kind of too good to be true.” I’ve never had a role come across my desk [that] was just so perfect. The only difference really is the fact that this character’s from Dublin and I’m from Liverpool. Apart from the Dublin accent, that’s the only new thing I had to learn. As far as musical instruments go—my guitar—I’ve been playing since I was 12, so that’s pretty solid.

DDW: I’ve played [piano] most of my life, but only as a hobby really. I’m not a professional piano player. This is the first time I’ve done it in a show; that was kind of new. But I love that aspect of it now. It’s not a traditional musical where you’re all following a conductor in front of you and that’s holding you together. With us, we’re definitely listening to each other on stage and we’re playing like a band.

Any favorite moments out on tour?

SW: We played Nashville, which is a music city. One of my best friends lives there, and two of my other friends from the U.K. came over. So all the sudden having been away from home for such a long time, I was in this cool music city with my best friends from England and it was very special for me.

“The overriding message is about following your dreams and your goals and not being stopped by fear.”

DDW: A highlight was when we were in L.A. and Glen Hansard came and saw us, and he actually sang with us after the show. We did a song called “The Auld Triangle,” which was an amazing experience.

For those who have seen the movie, what can they expect to be the same? To be different?

SW: There’s much more color. I feel like when you’re putting something on stage, you need more variation, whereas in a movie it’s quite easy to just follow two people around. It’s easier if you have one set and use that set in kind of an imaginative way to take the audience to different places. So I think that’s one of the ways we’ve adapted, and I think successfully as well.

DDW: The story’s the same of course, and the music’s the same. There’s definitely an expansion in the stage version—expansion of the characters. We see Billy the music shop owner and we kind of delve into [Girl’s] family more at home and her mum, and the Czech housemates. The movie was so special because it had such a delicate feel to it—it wasn’t polished at all. In putting [the movie] on the stage, it didn’t become a big flashy show with lots of sets and costumes and lights. It’s kind of about as minimalist as you can get, and that keeps the attention on the story and the music.

What happens to these characters after the story ends?

SW: Of course they have feelings for each other, but what they provide for each other is kind of a stability at a time of instability. So I feel like my character goes to New York. Whether or not he makes up with his ex-girlfriend or not, I’m not sure. I’m not too interested in that story to be honest. What I’m more interested in is the confidence that he’s been given by this Czech girl, and I think he goes to New York and he forms a band and he becomes a successful singer-songwriter over there.

DDW: It’s up for interpretation. I’ve got my theory, but that’s kind of the beauty of the story—it’s not a solid ending. So I wouldn’t like to put on what I think happens, because I don’t think everyone necessarily has to have the same feelings. 

Once runs from June 9-14 at the Palace Theater. For more information, visit columbus.broadway.com.

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