Coming Soon: Once: A New Musical

Last January, I wrote a post about the in development stage version of Once. The Academy Award-winning film of Guy and Girl working together to fulfill their musical needs in modern Dublin featured a strong score and touching story. The characters in the film were unaware that the songs they sang reflected their innermost emotions, adding a sense of novelty to the proceedings. I concluded by suggesting the story is too small to work in even the smallest Broadway theater. Once: A New MusicalIt looks like I might have been wrong. Once opened to rave reviews at the New York Theater Workshop. The production did everything it could to make the story seem intimate to a full house, including some unexpected interactivity. A functional bar was built onstage. Audience members were encouraged to walk into the set during intermission to get drinks.

The upcoming Broadway run--previews start 28 February, opens 18 March--just posted a teaser trailer using footage from the New York Theater Workshop staging. It looks good. It also conveniently includes press pulls from the major NYC papers.

The show is populated with a cast of singing actor/musicians who seem to carry the show. The film's score has been re-orchestrated to include many string players. I'm assuming these are the members of Girl's family that were required to sing and play instruments for the workshops.

It's hard to judge the production based on a one minute clip. What the teaser does show us is how the production team has found a way to translate a quiet little film into a more dynamic stage musical. Aside from the addition of new characters, director John Tiffany and movement director Steven Hoggett have found a way to naturally incorporate movement into the story.

The film uses very static scenes of the newly met musicians playing together. Girl sits at her piano while Guy performs with his guitar. The songs--sans "The Hill"--are static exercises in performance or used as backing for montages.

For the stage production of Once, the characters do not appear as chained down to their instruments. The most striking image in that teaser trailer is the full cast walking and spinning to the beat with cellos, violins, and guitars. That's a memorable image that stays true to the musicians exploring their goals and identity concept while tipping its hand toward the more standard Broadway staging.

Shows have obviously worked well in the past without having big dance numbers or traditional staging concepts. American Idiot, Passing Strange, and Fela! have all opened to critical acclaim and Tony nominations for not following the more standard path of a book musical. None of them lasted much longer than a year, though. New and exciting can only go so far when a more casual theater goer doesn't necessarily show up to be challenged.

Once seems to have found a way to keep its intimate appeal while settling into the larger production demands of a Broadway mounting. Hopefully, the show still plays well in a larger house.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Recap: Season 2, Episode 1: Face Off

The Link Rally: 12 January 2012