The opening show of the Segal Centre fall season is the musical Once, which won eight Tony Awards in 2012, including best song (“Falling Slowly”) and best musical. Once is based on the low-budget 2007 Irish film of the same name directed by John Carney about a Dublin-based busker and vacuum repairman and his relationship with a Czech immigrant who is an aspiring pianist and single mother. Their friendship quickly develops into a complex, passionate love story built on their love of music. The film’s soundtrack also garnered an Academy Award and a Grammy.
The Montreal production is set in Dublin. Instead of being set in a pub, it is “loosely set in a recording studio,” says director Andrew Shaver. Shaver is no stranger to Segal Centre audiences, having directed The Graduate and Sherlock Holmes and winning a META award for the latter. Other Montrealers might have seen his Grease at the Just For Laughs Festival, which was a big hit. Shaver is also the artistic director of SideMart Theatrical Grocery, a local company that often combines theatre and music. The book was written by Irish writer and Tony winner Enda Walsh, while the music and lyrics were created by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglovà, as they were for the film version, in which they also starred.
Music is so central to this show that all of the actors in it are also musicians who perform onstage. That starts with Eva Foote (Girl) and Greg Halpin (Guy), who play the lead parts. Foote, a recent graduate of the National Theatre School, has two EPs to her credit, with a third due in 2019. Halpin is an established musician and songwriter who has performed in the bands Honheehonhee and Lakes of Canada and has recorded his own album, Notes from a Bedroom. Conveniently, he also busks on Montreal’s metro platforms. There is even a scene in Once where the ensemble is playing together while singing and dancing.
Shaver said that there is plenty of “raw passion” onstage, adding: “What’s so wonderful about the play is that it treads a fine line between heartache and bellyache (from its comedy).” Although usually described as a musical comedy, the director says it can even be called a dramedy – because there is sufficient dramatic content in it. Some reviews of Once have also noted that it is a small-scale but warmly affecting musical, compared to other bloated spectacles or blockbusters. It’s not hard to imagine examples of the latter type among recent Broadway shows. The choreography of the Segal production was done by Annie St-Pierre with musical direction by David Terriault.
Once is playing at the Segal Centre from Oct. 7 to 28. For tickets, call 514-739-7944 or go to www.segalcentre.org