John Carney’s 2007 Irish hit film, Once, took the world by surprise. As a film it captured hearts around the world, winning an Oscar, while its conversion to the stage cemented the wild success of the humble musical.
Introduced to the world with Irish folk singer Glen Hansard and Czech Republic musical prodigy Marketa Irglova, Once is a simple film, beautiful in its raw grittiness.
Made on a micro budget of $US150,000, it is about busker ‘Guy’, flower seller ‘Girl’ and their love affair with music, and almost with each other.
This week, the musical opens for its debut Australian run at Melbourne’s Princes Theatre, in what will be its last season with the team that took it around the world.
So what does it take to turn a beloved piece of film, into a stage show?
Director John Tiffany has taken it from conception as a musical, to standing ovations on Broadway, the Tony Awards, and Melbourne will be his last hurrah with ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’.
Hesitant when initially approached, Tiffany didn’t even know how or if the movie could translate to the stage.
Created almost as an extended film clip, a musical would almost have been the logically step, but for the film’s delicacy.
Tiffany gathered an A-team to see if they could do it, and they developed the show in a few weeks which was quite usual, musicals can take up to seven years to produce.
“It were just a group of folk who sat down for four weeks in Cambridge, Massachusetts and made a piece of theatre,” Tiffany says.
“We captured something quite beautiful early on, I’ve not developed another musical since and I’m quite terrified in case it does take seven years.”
And translate to stage it did. While Les Miserable, Wicked or The Lion King appeal to the large, stage stealing moments, Once tugs on the heart strings in a subtle way. It is all about the music – the lead actors also sing and play instruments.
“We were lucky that people like Mumford & Sons became popular right around the time we were doing Once; thank you, thank you, Mumford, for all that new folk music, and it’s here to stay because people see an honesty about it,” Tiffany says.
After critical acclaim, eight Tony awards, and sell out shows in New York and London, Melbourne is destined to be his “special” final show.
“They’ve all loved it. Music is a great thing for breaking down any differences or barriers between people which is what I love about it; it connects with the heart instead of the head,” Tiffany says.
“But I’ll always be connected to the productions, I’ll stay connected but there was something about having worked in Australia before and the audiences, having this Scottish and Irish connection well, I just thought ‘Ooo this could be really special’, so this feels like the right one to go out on.”
Tiffany calls it a musical that the husbands, sons and boyfriends love. And if you aren’t convinced, consider this. Each production has a working Irish pub on stage.
“It is always people who say ‘Oh I don’t like musical theatre’ who end up being the biggest fans; the mad fans, be aware. Be careful.. they are the ones outside stage door every night.”
In Melbourne, Madeleine Jones plays ‘Girl’ and Tom Parsons plays ‘Guy’. They’ve never seen the stage show, but they have watched the movie.
For all its glory, Once and its stars remain refreshingly un-Hollywood and true to the first actors’ visions.
When Hansard and Irglova won the best Oscar award for Falling Slowly they spoke of dreams coming true for independent artists.
Irglova, who had to be called back on stage after she didn’t get time to say anything on the first go, gave a speech which could almost have come from the story itself.
“It’s just proof, no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible and, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up,” she said.
“The song was written from the perspective of hope, and hope, at the end of the day, connects us all. No matter how different we are.”