Sitting in a rehearsal room in the East Village, listening to Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee accompany themselves on the guitar and the piano as they sing “Falling Slowly,” the wistful duet from the movie Once.
I can remember why audiences were smitten by the low-key charms of John Carney‘s 2006 feature about a Dublin Street musician and a Czech piano who meet cute over a broken vacuum cleaner, make music together, and then part, their lives changed forever.
Now Once come to the stage, opening on December 6 at the New York Theathre Workshop, with Kazee and Milioti stepping into the roles created by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the adorable actor-musicians who fell in love while shooting the movie, won an Academy Award, and then broke up while touring with their band, The Swell Season.
And the show’s two young stars swear that it will arrive with the indie cred of the original intact, As Kazee says, “You won’t see any big Broadway production numbers with a chorus of singin vacuum cleaner.”
The English director John Tiffany and choreographer Steven Hoggett (the ingenious guy behind the National Theatre of Scotland‘s thrilling Iraq-war drama Black Watch), along with the savagely funny Irish playwright Enda Walsh (The Walworth Farce), have added a few characters and found subtle ways to incorporate elements of dance (when Kazee’s character play a song for a loan officer, bank workers conduct their business in time to the music). But the focus remains on the pair at the story’s heart.
Bot Kazee (110 in the Shade) and Milioti (That Face) were high school rock-‘n’-rollers, Kazee in Ashland, Kentucky, and Milioti in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Her audition wowed the creative team, but her piano playing didn’t; after practicing seven hours a day for ten days, she came back and got the part.
Though they’re not a real-life couple, the two convey a sense of longing and connection in their duets that bodes well for the show.
“It’s very emotional thing to share a song with someone–what we’re saying is ‘Here, take a look inside of me,'” Kazee says.
“When we’re up there,” adds Milioti, turning to her castmate,
“I’m playing it for you. And it’s a lot more revealing and vurnerable than anything I’ve ever done.”