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For Tony-winning 'Once,' music brings a simple story alive

By Michelle Stark

Times Staff Writer

The plot of Once doesn't sound like a good fit for a smash Broadway musical: a dour Dublin guy and a quirky Czech girl meet, sing a few songs together, part ways. The two don't even have names; they're merely known as Guy and Girl.

If it sounds more appropriate for a low-key rom-com, that's because it was — sort of. The musical is based on a rather aimless 2006 low-budget Irish movie of the same name about two musicians (Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard, who also wrote and performed the music). The tiny story made a big impression when it hit Broadway in 2012 and went on to win multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

What makes it translate to the stage so well?

Well, the music, for one.

Irglova and Hansard won an Academy Award for the film's most popular song, Falling Slowly, and also worked on the musical's rousing, life-affirming score. Falling Slowly, which shows up twice, is quintessential Once: melancholy yet beautiful, modest yet memorable.

And if the movie benefits from a stripped-down, insular feel, the musical transcends its slight premise by building a unique relationship with the audience.

Don't be surprised to see theatergoers up on stage before the show starts, mingling with the actors who have already started playing Irish tunes on the Dublin pub set. Everyone in the ensemble is a musician, so the supporting characters also act as the orchestra.

Dani de Waal, who plays Girl, says that relaxed atmosphere keeps the audience engaged. "It kind of breaks the 'them and us' of the audience, and makes everyone feel as one, like they're just in the pub jamming with us. Plus, the transition into the show is very hidden. . . . It all just makes us feel like we're in the story together," she said.

One of the most crucial aspects of Once is the connection between Girl and Guy. And de Waal is confident that, despite never meeting her co-star Stuart Ward before rehearsals, the chemistry between them shines through.

"It was so easy with him. We got on really well," she said. "We came at it from the same place, I found. We were quite willing to try loads of different things. We weren't trying to hit the nail on the head the first time. Our relationship on stage is always growing."

She was drawn to the part of Girl after seeing the movie.

"The story is so simple and human, and it just really touched me as a film," she said.

When it became a musical, she knew she wanted to be involved, even though she saw the challenges of adapting the small film for the stage, not to mention digging into a character that doesn't even have a name.

"We had to go from what we were given in the text. All of these reincarnations of this before, they were all very strong characters, even though the story is simple. We're still finding stuff (to play)," she said.

"Even though it's simple, there's a lot going on."

Michelle Stark can be reached at mstark@tampabay.com.

If you go

Once

The musical runs Feb. 11-16 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. Tickets are $46.50-$92. (813) 229-7827.

For Tony-winning 'Once,' music brings a simple story alive 02/04/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 11:35am]
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