Broadway sensation ‘Once’ making first non-English production in Korea

By Korea Herald

Original crew looking for Korea’s ‘triple threats’

  • Published : Feb 10, 2014 - 19:37
  • Updated : Feb 10, 2014 - 19:37
From left: “Once” musical director John Tiffany, musical supervisor Martin Lowe and associate movement director Nathaniel Shaw speak at a press conference at the D-Cube Arts Center in Seoul on Friday. (Seensee Company)

“His music needed one thing. Her.” The concise, yet powerful phrase poetically summarizes the core essence of the on-screen musical production-turned-live Broadway show “Once.”

The 2006 independent Irish musical film ― with a next-to-nothing budget and starring professional musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova as the leads, despite the fact they had no professional acting background ― was, to say the least, a surprising international success story.

Considering the unexpected success of “Once,” musical director John Tiffany took on the difficult task of taking the film’s original music and storyline and adapting them for the eponymous Off-Broadway musical. “Once” the musical made its Off-Broadway debut in 2011, before making its official debut on Broadway a year later. The musical landed itself eight Tony Awards in 2012, including the trophy for the year’s Best Musical.

Now, the original musical production crew of the hit Broadway show has come to Korea to help develop the musical’s first non-English production. Tiffany, along with musical supervisor Martin Lowe and associate movement director Nathaniel Shaw, has been holding casting auditions over the past week, looking for local talent able to meet the crew’s demanding “triple threat” criteria: on-stage artists who can not only act, but who can dance and play music as well.

“Acting, musician productions are famously difficult, because one is usually either an actor or a musician,” said Tiffany at a press conference held at the D-Cube Arts Center in Seoul on Friday. “But it’s a story about making music; there seemed to be only one possibility, and that is for the audience to see the music being made in front of them.”

The Tony Award-winning musical, however, raises the bar even one notch higher as the key production crew members are driven in their desire to ensure that the original musical bedrock of the script remains respected as they are only recruiting actors who are able to play instruments, preferably more than one.

“When we began working on ‘Once,’ we really had no idea what we were expecting. We thought we were just going to be creating a new musical,” said Lowe. “But after working on the script, it was inevitable that this had to be a show about actors who played their instruments.”

One of the film’s most iconic scenes is where Hansard and Irglova sit side by side in a local Dublin music shop and sing the movie’s most popular single, “Falling Slowly.” “Take this sinking boat and point it home, we’ve still got time. Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice, you’ll make it now” ― the illustrious lyrics and heart-wrenching performance landed the two artists an Academy Award for Best Original Song and helped make the film’s soundtrack one to be remembered through the ages.

Despite the initial concerns that the small nuances and overall essence of the Ireland-based musical storyline may be lost or somewhat diluted in translation, especially considering the production’s move to a non-Western country, the crew’s worries were dissipated after their first rounds of casting auditions in Seoul.

“In some ways this is a story about those who can’t communicate through words,” Lowe said. “It communicates through music; and that’s become very clear this week that story is not limited to Ireland or the U.K.”

“To see these actors, who are also brilliant musicians as well, you can’t help but fall in love with the piece and the human beings who created this music,” he continued.

In the film, there was a scene where Hansard’s character, Guy, was getting ready to leave his home country and venture off on his dreams of pursuing music in New York. Guy sat and had a talk with his father, with whom he had a very awkward and estranged relationship.

“It (the scene) is particularly Irish,” Lowe explained. “But two days ago an actor (Korean) came in and read that scene and it was incredibly moving to see something that felt very, very Irish ... the actor didn’t need any prompting at all. He just understood it; there were a few moist eyes in the room.”

“I am just amazed at the talent pool you have here in Korea,” he added.

The musical “Once” will have its grand opening this December at the Seoul Arts Center.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)