Oscar, Tony-winning ‘Once’ arrives at Kennedy Center

November 29, 2020 | WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Once' at the Kennedy Center (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — In 2006, Irish filmmaker John Carney created the Oscar-winning indie “Once,” a modern-day musical about a busker and an immigrant who spend a week together in Dublin.

The film’s “Falling Slowly” won Best Original Song, while launching Carney to more star-studded movies like “Begin Again” (2014), starring Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley and Adam Levine.

Now, the stage musical version of “Once” arrives at the Kennedy Center from July 7 to Aug. 16.

Featuring a book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by the film’s stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the musical premiered off-Broadway in 2011. A year later, it took Broadway by storm, earning 11 Tony nominations and winning eight, including Best Musical and Best Actor.

Actor Stuart Ward reprises the lead role of Guy after playing it recently at London’s West End. A British native and a singer-songwriter himself, Ward studied at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) in Liverpool, England. He saw the movie version of “Once” back in 2008.

“I loved the movie,” Ward tells WTOP. “I remember it quite vividly. I was rehearsing with a girl who was playing piano and backup vocals on my own music. We watched it together one day when we were finished rehearsals. It was strange watching it knowing we were kind of doing the same thing.”

Now, his female counterpart is played by on stage by actress Dani de Waal.

“Dani is fantastic,” Ward says. “We only met each other on the first day of rehearsal, which was kind of bizarre. Dani was already in New York … whereas I came from London, so it wasn’t possible for us to meet before the show started. … There was a little bit of apprehension in the air. … The director is wondering if our voices are going to blend and wondering if there was going to be any magic or charisma between us, but fortunately there was from the get-go. I love working with her.”

Fans of the movie will recognize many of their favorite songs, from the wistful “Falling Slowly” to the anguished “Leave” to the haunting “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”

“I think people can relate to the songs a lot, because they are a lot about lost love or love not happening the way you expect,” Ward says. “When Glen wrote all this music, he obviously never had it in mind to be a stage musical. He never even had it in mind to be a movie. It was just songs that he’d written. But they kind of lend themselves to the theatrical side, I think, because they’re so narrative and they paint a picture of love and relationships, so it lends itself to the stage quite a lot.”

The stage version also offers a lot surprises that aren’t in the film.

“The stage version is a lot different actually, and it kind of has to be,” Ward says. “If we were to take the movie and just put it on stage, I don’t think it would work. It’s very intimate and just about those two in the movie — and a lot of very close shots on them as well. If we juts put two people on stage in a 3,000 seat theater, people would get bored quite easily.”

So, the stage musical gives more time to many of the background characters.

“The shopkeeper in the movie only has one line, but in our show, he’s probably the third principle character of the show. He’s a huge part. He’s kind of our comic relief character, if you like. There’s a lot of comedy in this version as well, which kind of gives the romance more of an emotional punch.”

The musical also features a few additional folk songs, as well as the chance for audiences to take part in an interactive jam session on stage before the show.

While the show starts at 7:30 p.m., you may want to arrive early around 7 p.m. and join the cast on stage, where the set-piece bar doubles as a functional bar that serves actual drinks.

“You can get a drink, crowd around us, and clap along or sing along if you know the words,” Ward says. “In the intermission as well, the same thing applies. There is no music, but you’re still allowed to get up there and get yourself a pint.”

That’s right, the oft-formal Kennedy Center will become an Irish pub.

“This whole building has just floored me to be honest. We don’t have anything like this where I’m from,” Ward says. “We walked in yesterday on the way to the theatre and there’s a concert pianist just playing in the foyer, and you’re like, God this is unbelievable. And the crowds are fantastic.”

The show comes with a parental advisory due to some adult language.

Click here for ticket information.

Hear the full interview below.

November 29, 2020 | (Jason Fraley)

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