March 23, 2017
The success of the 2007 film Once, the simple story of a guy and a girl making music in Dublin, was probably pretty surprising even to those most intimately involved with making it. Director John Carney and singers/songwriters Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova found a spark of magic with the low budget film which highlights the exploits of a busker and a street vendor who meet, develop a friendship and make beautiful music together. The film earned more than 23 million at the box office, and one of the many beautiful songs on the soundtrack, "Falling Slowly," won the Oscar for Best Song. The soundtrack was also nominated for a Grammy.
Perhaps it's not surprising that a Broadway musical was the next logical step, and the stage version of Once proved even more successful than the film, earning eight Tony Awards including one for Best Musical. For fans of the film, there are some significant differences between that and the staged version, which makes the most of simple staging and taps into the eclectic talents of its cast. With the actors not only performing their lines and songs but also serving as the orchestra and set movers, there's a lot going on for the cast, which includes some characters not originally part of the film.
One new character is the Emcee, the owner of the bar where the greatest share of the action takes place. Always played by men in the past, the production of Once that visits Fort Wayne's historic Embassy Theatre this month will feature a young actress, Angel Lin, in the Emcee role. (She is also the understudy for the Girl role.) Although acknowledging some narrative and scenic differences between the film and musical, Lin thinks fans of the film will be happy with what they see on stage.
"The musical is based on the movie, but it's really its own thing," says Lin. "There are more characters, so the story is expanded quite a bit, and we all play instruments throughout the show."
Lin, who plays guitar in the orchestra, sees her opportunity to play a role originally played by men as one of the many ways they show is able to diversify, especially since only the Guy and the Girl have built in gender expectations.
"I don't think there was any conscious decision to cast women in some of the roles, but I was cast as the Emcee, and the role of the Bank Manager, who is also the cello player in the orchestra, is being played by a woman now after having been played by men. I think it's just an effort to make the cast more diverse. We've actually had conversations about other ways we could do some gender-bending, hiring transgendered actors in roles. I think it's just a great way to give opportunities to people."
In addition to their acting and instrumental demands, Lin also says the cast is fully responsible for moving portions of the set. Though the basic bar setting remains in place, a few shifts - like to the Guy's bedroom - are handled cast members moving things around. In fact, the cast is never off the stage during the entire performance, moving off to the side when they are no longer part of a scene. Lin thinks that's part of what makes the show work.
"The set is very simple, so there aren't any big set changes, but it's very dynamic. And the bar is a working bar, so people can come up before the show or during intermission to get a drink."
"We have a pre-show party on the stage, so when the audience arrives they're welcome to come up on the stage and get their drinks and enjoy some music. We all come out and play some traditional Irish and Czech folk music which gives us all a chance to warm up and lock in since we have a show to play together. The pre-show and the bar are the secret-not-so-secret part of the show. It's great for us to be able to jam together and to entertain the audience before we settle in for the two-and-a-half hours of the show."
While Lin plays guitar during the show, the pre-show allows her to play some other instruments as well, including mandolin and ukulele. As understudy for the Girl, she also plays piano, and during the lead actress's illness awhile back, Lin did play the role for a week and had the chance to inhabit a different kind of persona.
Having been with this production beginning in December 2015, Lin and her castmates had a short hiatus last summer before heading out again in the fall.
There are only a few more weeks left in the dhoe'd run after their visit to Fort Wayne on March 27. When Once is over, Lin returns to New York and starts looking for her next job. In the meantime, she's happy to share this popular and beloved musical with audiences who may or may not have seen the film on which it's based.
"I had actually seen the musical on Broadway first, and then I saw the film. I loved them both, and I think people who have seen the film will be happy with the way it's being done on the stage. But for people who haven't seen the film at all, it won't be a problem. It really stands on its own."