The beating heart of any musical is its music, and the Tony Award-winning Once is no exception. Adapted from the 2007 Irish film, the film went onto win an Academy Award for best original song for “Falling Slowly”.
Opening at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage later this month, Once marks the conclusion of the Arts Club’s current season, and the final show programmed and directed by outgoing artistic director emeritus, Bill Millerd.
The story of a struggling Irish busker and a young Czech woman, who pursue both their musical ambitions and love, the musical is famous for the transformation from stage to Irish pub where audiences are invited onstage before the show for a pint or two. The Arts Club Theatre Company’s production on its Granville Island stage will keep with this tradition.
In this Q&A we talk with musical director, Steven Charles, about bringing the musical to the Granville Island Stage.
This interview has been edited.
Tell me a little about Once, why has it garnered so much attention?
This musical is based on the movie that was made in Ireland on a shoestring budget, and it retains the down-to-earth and unconventional quality that made the movie successful.
The Irish and Czech music is played live and shows how musical culture transcends societal boundaries and immigration groups, and is a force for self-discovery.
How do you break down rehearsals for this musical? What is the process in putting it all together?
The music was arranged by Martin Lowe, but he left room for interpretation and improvisation. There are lots of vocal harmonies and instrumental features for each cast member, especially in the pre-show ceilidh [traditional Irish social gathering].
Once requires actors who can also play instruments, does that present any challenges?
Yes. The auditions were difficult, but we managed to put together an incredible cast who are not only stellar actors but also very strong and versatile musicians. I feel privileged to work with such talent.
I understand a cello harness is used in the show. What is it, and why do you need one?
It’s a secret, but let’s just say our choreographer Scott Augustine has some big ideas.
What is something that an audience member might not fully appreciate that went into making the music?
The actors came in very prepared and worked hard during the rehearsal process to learn new instruments, harmonies, and choreography. It’s an incredible amount of work. There’s also a big team doing sound and instrument logistics which was tricky to figure out on this show.
Once opens at the Arts Club Granville Island stage on June 14 and continues through July 29. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.