For the first time ever, the intimate story of a struggling street musician and the woman who gave him new hope will take centerstage at the Fox Theatre with the original Broadway show, Once. Winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Once is a unique theatrical experience featuring live onstage musicians playing what becomes the soundtrack to the characters’ romance and dreams. LN spoke with British lead actor and musician Stuart Ward about the musical, performing it live, as well as the power music has to captivate us all.
How did you come to join the U.S.-touring cast of Once?
I was in Once on London’s West, and was asked if I wanted to come to do the U.S. tour. This is my first big show in America. I have played guitar since I was 12, and I am a professional guitarist. I do both theater and TV, as well as music—so it’s quite a mixed resume. I was in West End performances of The Recruiting Officer and Dreamboats and Petticoats; and I had a role in Downton Abbey.
Tell us about your starring role as Irish street musician, Guy, in Once. As a musician yourself, how do you relate to the character?
Guy is down on his luck a little bit—he lost his mom last year, his girlfriend just left town, and he’s not getting anywhere with his music. But right when he decides to give it all up, he meets a girl who gives him this newfound confidence. As a songwriter and a musician, I know how hard it is to play your own songs in front of other people, so I really relate to him in that way. That’s probably the reason it took me so long to release an album.
Speaking of your music, describe your new EP, Pictures.
It’s quite like the music of Once. People who are looking to buy it will also be those who are coming to the show. It wasn’t meant to sound like Once; it’s just the way I write and the kind of music I like—it has that acoustic, folk and pop sound.
Share your experience working with the Once cast and directors.
They’re just the most talented group of people I’ve ever met. They all play about five instruments each, and they learned them on this job. Most of them are guitarists who have picked up the banjo, mandolin or ukulele. And working with the creative team also has been amazing—they’re all multi-award-winning directors and choreographers.
Describe how the feel of the show is different from other Broadway productions.
One of the reasons why it’s so refreshing is that it isn’t this massive stage show. There are no big sets, costumes or numbers like many stage musicals today. It’s a play with music in it, and it’s about telling the story of these characters. I think it’s what people want to see when they go to the theater, and it’s been kind of lost. It goes back to the basics, which should be storytelling; and I think that’s why it’s been so successful.
One unique aspect of the show is that musicians are performing live onstage. Tell us about that dynamic.
It’s quite tricky because the acoustics change at every venue. The amplification is only for the audience—the performers onstage can’t hear it. So, we have to rely on each other and blend with one another. But when we get to St. Louis, we will have two weeks in the same venue, so we will get used to that space.
How does this Broadway adaptation differ from the film?
There are a lot of differences to make it work onstage. We delve into the other Czech characters a lot more, so there is both Irish and Czech folk music in the show. It’s adapted in a very clever way that keeps the tenderness of the film. I think people in St. Louis will love it.
Describe your favorite moment of the show.
There’s a song called When Your Mind’s Made Up at the moment when they go into the studio to record. They perform it so perfectly the first time, and the sound engineer is awe-struck. That’s the moment my character changes—he becomes a rock star.
What will people take from the show?
There’s a lot of comedy in the show, which I don’t think people will expect. But you will cry, as well. It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster. After they see it, people will ask questions about their own relationships and past relationships. It’s quite a raw, real story, and I think that’s why people appreciate it so much.
WHEN: April 8-20
WHERE: Fox Theatre
INFO: 534-1111 or fabulousfox.com