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Broadway's 'Once' adaptation: Cast and creators talk bringing the beloved film to the stage

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Once
Joan Marcus

We already brought you the exclusive clips of the upcoming stage adaptation of the 2007 hit film Once, which begins previews on Broadway on Feb. 28. Now EW is bringing you even further behind the scenes with the original songwriting team – Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová – as well as the show’s director, John Tiffany, and Once’s dazzling new leads, Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti.

The show, which every name above has described as “a play with music” rather than a traditional Broadway musical, is set in Dublin and tells the story of an Irish street musician and a Czech immigrant who fall in love and compose music together during one romantic week. The movie, which starred Hansard and Irglová as thinly-veiled versions of themselves, was adapted for a workshop last year and opened off-Broadway to generally positive reviews for a limited run in December.

In the stage adaptation, Hansard and Irglová opted to allow a new generation of actors to portray their characters in the film, rather than stepping in themselves. “I think what they’ve done is they’ve taken the tale and they’ve retold it in a way that I can really enjoy watching it,” said Hansard, whose unnamed male character from the film is played by Broadway vet Kazee. “This is theirs now. I really feel that Steve and Cristin have taken those characters and they tell the tale really well. They’re not trying to be the dude and the girl from Once. They’re trying to be the dude and the girl from Once, the musical.”

It’s not surprising that the play has peeled off from the source material, since both Kazee and Milioti have vastly different approaches to their interpretations of the characters. Kazee, whose girlfriend Megan Hilty is appearing on the splashy opposite end of the musical theatre spectrum in NBC’s Smash, was such a fan of the movie that he initially turned down the role because he was “worried that it was going to be an overly slicked-up, commercial piece of junk that would sully the good name of the film,” he said, although he has obviously since reconsidered. “The reality is, the more you photocopy something, the less clear it becomes. So I just looked at it as an independent story about two people who meet and fall in love, and I think in that way I made it my own, to a certain extent. It’s about simplicity. It wasn’t as commercialized.”

Milioti, on the other hand, has never seen the movie, and has no plans to. “When I got the part, I had never seen it, and I thought, I shouldn’t see it now,” said Milioti, who says playing the music live is a huge part of keeping the show fresh and not stale. “When I talked to Glen and Markéta, they said that their characters took on qualities of themselves, so I guess I don’t feel like I’m playing someone. The only thing I worried about was when [Markéta] came to see it and if she thought that I was going to be able to play her music. That was most important to me — to honor her.”

The Broadway adaptation takes place entirely in a Dublin pub, and the 14-actor company plays all of the show’s music – even playing as the audience comes in before the show. It’s one way the show stays intimate and relatable, which was one of the challenges in transitioning Once from screen to stage. “[Playwright] Enda [Walsh] has got a friend who said, ‘Turning Once into a piece of theatre would be like catching a butterfly,” and that’s absolutely a brilliant way of putting it,” said director John Tiffany, who is making his Broadway directorial debut. “We were very, very careful, fragile, delicate to retain the purity of that story while still making it something that can communicate to a thousand people in the same room.”

And as far as whether Hansard or Irglová will ever take the stage and reprise their semi-autobiographical roles from the film? It’s not likely… but it’s also not out of the question.

“I’m not going to say no because I don’t really like closing any doors,” said Irglová. “But [Cristin] has her own method, and it really felt like she was creating a new character. It’s not that I would resist being a part of it in the future, but I don’t know if that would be necessarily the right thing. It’s completely Cristin and Steve’s now.”

Added Hansard: “These people have done a great job, and I’m very proud of them, but you pay it the best respect by leaving it alone. That chapter of our lives has been a really amazing one, but I would have no desire to revisit it. There’s nothing I can say. This is their time.”

Once begins previews at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Feb. 28 and opens on March 18.

Read more:

‘Once’ comes to Broadway — EXCLUSIVE CLIPS

‘The Swell Season’ trailer… a sequel to ‘Once’?

‘Once’ stage review