'Once' is almost twice as good on the stage
Once was the little movie that could – and did. John Carney's 2006 film, set in Dublin, was warmly received and did well at the box office. We shared in the joy of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's Oscar win for best original song for 'Falling Slowly'.
It did not take long for the idea to emerge that Once could be adapted into a stage musical. It would retain the songs written by Glen and Markéta, and Irish playwright Enda Walsh was approached to write the book.
The concept worked. The musical opened on Broadway last year and was a big hit. The production received 11 Tony Award nominations and won eight, including Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Book. It also won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical.
The director is Englishman John Tiffany who spoke to me this week ahead of Once opening at The Gaiety.
Although the film was huge here, it was not as big in the UK, so Tiffany came across the music before he saw the film and was blown away.
It was not until he was approached to direct the stage adaptation that he got around to watching the film.
"I loved it. I knew it was right up my street in terms of the honesty of it, and it almost had a documentary feel following these two people around Dublin," he said.
"I had a wonderful story, music and great characters, but what was very important to me was that it wouldn't be 'Broadway-jazzled'."
He knew Enda Walsh, and felt it was very important to bring a writer on board who knew Dublin well.
Walsh, too, was surprised at being asked to work on a musical, but admitted that he had never really written about Dublin in this way before, so it really released him.
As for staging it, the director knew he wanted to retain the simplicity of the film but with a theatrical language. "One of the scenes that really stayed with me in the film was when Glen took Markéta to the house party and everyone is doing their turn," he said.
Having grown up in Yorkshire with a dad who played in a brass band, he felt a connection to those music sessions that can happen in working-class areas.
"I quickly had the idea that when the audience arrived there would be a session going on and it would be like they were entering a bar," he said.
The male lead in Dublin will be played by singer-songwriter Declan Bennett, who has just released his third album.
The female lead will be played by Croatian singer and actress Zrinka Cvitestic. She is a big name in her home country and, among other things, won the inaugural season of the Croatian version of Strictly Come Dancing.
Once will open in London's West End next month, but we are getting to see it here first, and rightly so – it's an Irish story to be proud of.
Once – The Musical runs at The Gaiety, Dublin, from February 22 to March 9. www.gaietytheatre.ie
Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat, 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun, 12-2pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.