Once, the new Broadway musical based on the hit indie film of the same name, is bringing a bittersweet brand of love story to the Jacobs Theatre. Read on to get the story behind the story of this quiet musical romance.
"Hope, at the end of the day, connects us all," said co-composer Marketa Irglova as she accepted the 2008 Academy Award for Best Song. But making it to the Oscars was so much more than either Irglova or her collaborator, singer/songwriter Glen Hansard, had hoped for when composing their winning song "Falling Slowly" or starring in Once, the independent Irish film for which it was written.
"I know it sounds trite to say it, but we really didn't expect anybody to see it," Hansard told the Washington Post the week before their Oscar win. "I'm deeply proud of the fact that people have responded to it, but I'm flabbergasted."
Flabbergasted may have been putting it mildly, given the film’s humble origins. Writer/director John Carney and the cast shot Once on the streets of Dublin in 17 days, with no rehearsal, no lighting, no wardrobe, no permits, no nothing. "It looks like it was shot on a mobile phone," Hansard joked to the Post, "People see it and they think there's something wrong with the sound in the cinema. But that's just the way it sounds!"
When Your Mind’s Made Up
Hansard got involved with the film through director Carney, a former bassist with Hansard's band The Frames, who asked him to compose the movie's music. Once was expected to star Irish actor Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins) as Guy and, at Hansard’s suggestion, Irglova was cast as Girl. The two had first met and played together when Irglova was 13 years old. Hansard was friends with her father, who promoted The Frames in his native Czech Republic.
When Murphy dropped out, Hansard stepped in to play Guy, a struggling singer/songwriter in Dublin. He meets Girl, a Czech immigrant and talented pianist. The two become friends and collaborators, and make the music that is heart of the film. Since neither Hansard or Irglova was an actor, the film relied heavily on improvisation and the characters ended up tailored to their own personalities. Guy and Girl are clearly falling for one another, but that is as far as the romance goes. The film’s title came from an early version of the script, in which Guy and Girl made love only once. After being deemed "too predictable" by Irglova the scene was cut, and now the title refers to the "great Irish tradition of vacillating," said Carney. "They say, 'Once I do this, then it’ll be great.' But they never do it."
Once was rejected by one prestigious film festival after another, until a scout from Sundance Film Festival saw it at a screening in Galway. The film turned out to be the sleeper hit of Sundance in 2007. Fox Searchlight Pictures picked it up it for a modest $500,000, and it went on to gross more than $20 million worldwide.
After watching Hansard and Irglova fall in love on screen, fans were delighted to find that life imitated art. A real romance blossomed between the two, despite their 18-year age gap, and it seemed to give their story a happy ending the film left hanging. They were an unlikely but charming pair–he is gregarious and energetic, she is quiet and thoughtful–and their chemistry was obvious. "About the third day in [filming], John started predicting that we'd get together," Harsard recalled. "He kept joking and calling us his Bogart and Bacall."
"I fell in love with him instantly," Irglova said in The Swell Season, the documentary follow up to Once that charted the duo’s relationship after finding fame. "It's kind of mad, but it’s true."
Irglova, now 24, has since married a studio engineer, but she remains close with Hansard. They say they were happy to revisit Once when the opportunity came to bring it to the stage. “Marketa and I have walked somewhere else [since then]," Hansard said, “and we’re in different parts of our lives now. It’s great to revisit this because it was the pivotal moment of my life, the biggest so far, so I can only really see it as a blessed project.”
A simple, quiet love story may not seem an obvious choice for a large-scale Broadway musical, but producers were quick to see the project’s potential. In 2008 John N. Hart, Jr, Jeff Sine and Fred Zollo acquired the worldwide theater rights to the piece. Hansard wasn't convinced. “I thought a live musical would ruin what was special about Once,” Hansard told The New York Times as the show’s off-Broadway run began in the fall of 2011. Irglova, unsentimental as ever, had no such qualms. “As long as there wasn’t anybody saying I want to re-edit our movie, I was OK,” she said. “But still, you want to make sure the story works onstage.”
To that end, playwright Enda Walsh was brought on to write the book to support Hansard and Irglova’s music, as were British director John Tiffany and choreographer Steven Hoggett, who collaborated on the acclaimed Black Watch. “John and I have always started with the music,” Hoggett said, “and whatever feelings are stirred in that music.” That same respect exists in the cast of actor-musicians, led by Steve Kazee as Guy and Cristin Milioti as Girl. [Hansard and Irglova] have written such gorgeous music,"
For their parts, Hansard and Irglova are happy with their new role as Broadway composers. "