“Once” Sings a Song of Love and Life

by Jack Getz

Once upon a time, there was a low-budget, independent film called Once. The movie explored the love affair of two struggling musicians in Dublin—two, nameless characters known simply as “Guy” and “Girl.” He’s a busker; she’s a Czech immigrant. They meet, fall in love, and make beautiful music together. Literally and figuratively.

The 2011 Broadway adaptation of this modest 2007 film was a smash hit—and the winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Just don’t call this show a musical; it’s “a play with music.” The musical numbers don’t interrupt the “real life” action; they unfold in the reality of the world on stage.

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová created the songs for the original film, including the Academy Award-winning “Falling Slowly.” The duo repeated their collaboration for the Broadway adaptation, with an original book by Edna Walsh.

Bringing Once to life on the Florida Studio Theatre stage takes a high level of talent. For one thing, there’s no band behind the stage. The 12 actors are the band; they all play their own instruments.

This production will feature several returning favorites. Ben Williams (a crowd-pleaser as Carl Perkins in last year’s Million Dollar Quartet) will portray Guy. Sarah Hund (a favorite with FST Cabaret audiences for her incredible fiddling and singing in The Blue Eyed Bettys, American Pie, and Poems, Prayers, and Promises) will also return as Reza. Emily Mikesell (a veteran of Older Than Dirt, Kings of Country, and Urban Cowboys) will wow audiences yet again with her vocals and accordion playing in the role of Baruska.
The remaining actors are all making their FST debuts. “They’re all not only terrific musicians, but knock-out performers,” says Director Jason Cannon. “They’ve got more than technical mastery—they’ve all got heart and soul. A show like this demands nothing less.”

According to Cannon, Once is a love story—on many levels.

“It’s a story about clinging to hope in the face of collapsing dreams,” he says. “It’s a story about how the language of music can transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. Above all, it’s a story about how love is the key to healing.”

This “play with music” begins with a creative crisis. Guy had been a happy-go-lucky street musician. But he’s hit a creative wall. He’s ready to give up on music—until he meets the beautiful, young Girl. Their love becomes a musical catalyst. They write passionate love songs together. Their new songs burn with a raw, expressive honesty. Because now, they both truly know what they’re singing about.

Cannon promises the story of Guy and Girl will be emotionally captivating and theatrically breathtaking. Once draws you in from the very first note and never lets go,” he says. “It’s an unforgettable story about going for your dreams and the power of music to connect us all.”

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