When the stage musical “Once” comes to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts Feb. 4-9, it won’t look or sound like any other Broadway show you’ve seen.
Based on the 2006 Irish indie film of the same title, “Once” tells the smallish, intimate story of two musicians whose unlikely friendship helps them heal and move on.
Keeping that unplugged feeling was the job of the Irish and English creative team tapped by producer Barbara Broccoli (best known for the James Bond film series).
Director John Tiffany, playwright Enda Walsh, movement coordinator Steven Hoggett and musical supervisor Martin Lowe talked to me about taking “Once” from screen to stage.
How did you become involved with “Once?”
“[Broccoli] got in touch with my agent. They had seen [the play] ‘Black Watch,’ and liked it. But how they thought someone who directed this harrowing, intense story about an Irish regiment in Iraq should do a musical is beyond me. I listened to the music that night, and just loved it. I thought, ‘Are they insane? This is the most un-theatric story ever.’ “ — John Tiffany
“[Tiffany, a close friend since they were teenagers] got me involved. The interesting thing is someone I worked with in ‘American Idiot’ gave me a copy of the movie … and in less than a year’s time, I was talking about doing the stage version.” — Steven Hoggett
“I had done a show at National Theater of Scotland. I knew [Tiffany] socially. I hadn’t worked with him. It was literally a call out of the blue. It was a children’s puppet show I did that he saw. At the time, it was just a five-day workshop. Very loose. I knew a lot about it, but I hadn’t seen the film. I knew ‘Falling [Slowly]’ because I saw it on the Oscars. I think I lied and said I knew everything, and then I spent the rest of the day learning everything. What I did was I sat with the album for a few weeks, just listening and transcribing. I think I had some very good transcriptions.” — Martin Lowe
“I think I got a call from the producers about adapting ‘Once’ to the stage. I remember telling my agent, ‘This is terrible, awful. How demeaning you know? A musical.’ But then, I thought it would at least be entertaining to take a day to listen to Broadway producers talk about this. It ended up being for two days. I’ve known John Tiffany for 17 years, and although we’ve never worked together, I always thought it would be great to work with him. So we spent two days in London reading the screenplay. We had two actors reading the parts just so we could hear it, and we listened to the musical and talked about what we could do. I was really writing a dark piece around that time, and this was something adorable and light. I remember leaving [and] thinking, ‘Well, the show is done. All I’ve got to do is write it.’ “ — Enda Walsh
What was important in moving “Once” from screen to stage?
“I thought the fans would want to hear the music they knew. What I did was I went to YouTube and listened to every live version I could. And then, I walked into the room and saw what happened. If someone wanted to try something different, play another instrument, then we said, ‘Sure, give it a go.’ If they wanted to play the mandolin and then wanted to try it on a banjo, then we said, ‘Yeah, try it.’ What I did was do a lot of prep and then throw it all out. Not really, but what I did was prepare and then watched what happened [in the workshop]. I’ve done a few jukebox musicals in my time [“Mamma Mia”], and the obligation is to serve up those songs the way they, the audience, remember them. And to do so lovingly … without being slavish.” — Lowe
“I thought this is a piece that could be destroyed by choreography. I was very clear about there were these songs, these four songs that I thought we shouldn’t touch. In a way, I have always talked my way out of jobs, but I was so sure that the show wouldn’t work with choreography as such.” — Hoggett
What did you bring to the show?
“An absolute love of the music … and how that heals. It’s about the simplicity and honesty of the story. I thought we could easily smash this with a sledgehammer. It’s like having to catch a butterfly.” — Tiffany
“My big feeling was I wanted … to make it an ensemble piece, not just about two people … but rather dysfunctional, misshapen individuals who get together and make music. But then, you have to imagine the audience sitting there and thinking, ‘Oh, now, now another one is going to tell us a story about himself.’ I didn’t want it to be that. But rather how these people come into each other’s lives and change them for the better. Thank God for that friendship, you know, when you look back? Look at what was achieved through that connection, to be in love. That human thing where we can meet up and have a profound affect on each other. Isn’t it great we weren’t born hamsters, so we can do that and appreciate that? — Walsh
IF YOU GO:
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday; matinees 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Contact: 305-949-6722 or ArshtCenter.org.