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In “Once,” a Czech Immigrant Girl Gives a Struggling Irish Songwriter the Courage to Pursue His Dreams

Girl (Dani de Waal), an immigrant from the Czech Republic, encourages Guy (Stuart Ward), a struggling Irish singer-songwriter, not to give up on his music (photo by Joan Marcus)

Girl (Dani de Waal), an immigrant from the Czech Republic, encourages Guy (Stuart Ward), a struggling Irish singer-songwriter, not to give up on his music (photo by Joan Marcus)

Next up at the Durham Performing Arts Center is the first national tour of the 2012 Tony Award®-winning musical Once, which is based on the Academy Award®-winning 2007 Irish musical film about a Czech immigrant girl who gives a struggling Irish singer-songwriter the courage to pursue his dreams. (Shot on a shoestring budget of $160,000 in just 17 days, Once won the 2007 Oscar® for Best Original Song for “Falling Slowly.”)

The critically acclaimed stage version of Once will play eight performances from Jan. 21st through Jan. 26th at the Durham Performing Arts Center, in the American Tobacco District of the Bull City, as part of DPAC‘s illustrious SunTrust Broadway Series. The show is set in an Irish pub where Guy (played at DPAC by Stuart Ward) performs and Girl (Dani de Waal) becomes his number-one fan, friend, and muse.

Once is about a man named Guy, who has wonderful musical talent; but he doesn’t have the confidence to explore that talent until he meets Girl, a Czech immigrant,” explains Toronto actress Donna Garner. “I play Girl’s mother, Baruška. Girl and her daughter, Ivanka, live with me; and so do three other young immigrants” whom Baruška helps learn English and adjust to living in Ireland.

Garner notes that there is a lively preshow for Once, starting about 20 minutes before curtain, during which the audience is invited to come onstage and even order drinks from the pub staff, if they are so inclined. “Basically,” she says, “we jam in this pub onstage…. Three of the preshow songs are different every night, and the other three are set songs.”

Irish singer-songwriter Guy (Stuart Ward) shows a new confidence with his number-one fan Girl (Dani de Waal) accompanying him on piano (photo by Joan Marcus)

Irish singer-songwriter Guy (Stuart Ward) shows a new confidence with his number-one fan Girl (Dani de Waal) accompanying him on piano (photo by Joan Marcus)

The 2011 Off-Broadway, 2012 Broadway, 2013 Dublin, and 2013 West End musical, like the movie, features music and lyrics by the film’s stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová — who played Guy and Girl — plus a book by prize-winning Irish dramatist and screenwriter Enda Walsh. After premiering Off Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop on Dec. 6, 2011, Once moved to the Great White Way, where it debuted on March 18, 2012 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre and is still running, with more than 760 performances to date.

Directed on Broadway and on the current tour by the Black Watch team of director John Tiffany and movement coach Steven Hoggett, this offbeat musical romance took home eight 2012 Tonys, including the award for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical, plus the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical. The first national tour also features music supervision and orchestrations by Martin Lowe, scenic and costume design by five-time Tony Award winner Bob Crowley, lighting design by Tony winner Natasha Katz, and sound design by Clive Goodwin.

In addition to Stuart Ward, Dani de Waal, and Donna Garner, the tour cast also includes Raymond Bokhour as Da, Matt DeAngelis as Švec, John Steven Gardner as Eamon, Evan Harrington as Billy, Ryan Link as the Emcee, Benjamin Magnuson as the Bank Manager, Alex Nee as Andrej, Erica Swindell as Guy’s Ex-Girlfriend, Kolette Tetlow as Girl’s daughter Ivanka, and Claire Wellin as Réza. Understudies include Estelle Bajou, Stephen McIntyre, Zander Meisner, Tina Stafford, Tiffany Topol, and Matt Wolpe.

“[Baruška] is is a difficult role,” says Donna Garner, “because I am watching my daughter make decisions that I don’t nessarily agree with. But I have to step back and let her live her own life. (I bet a lot of mothers can relate to that.)”

Although she is not a mother herself, the 48-year-old Canadian actress says, “I am an aunt to at least 80 nephews and nieces, great nephews and nieces, and at least two great-great nephews and nieces.”

The youngest of 13 children, Garner says, “I was born in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, so I’m a full-blown Canadian…. I grew up on a dairy farm between Woodstock and Stratford, Ontario….

“We were lucky enough to play baseball and figure skate,” says Garner. “I had piano, violin, and singing lessons; and I started doing musical-theater shows when I was 15.”

Donna Garner attended Western University and the University of Toronto, and earned a degree in voice performance. She also spent two summers in an American Institute of Musical Studies program in Austria, and has worked as a professional pianist.

“I quickly discovered that musical theater was where my head was,” she confesses. When not acting, she teaches at Sheridan College and Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts, which are both located in Toronto, where she makes her home.

Guy (Stuart Ward, far right) looks tenderly on Girl (Dani de Waal, far left), with her daughter Ivanka (Kolette Tetlow) and her mother Baruška (Donna Garner) (photo by Joan Marcus)

Guy (Stuart Ward, far right) looks tenderly on Girl (Dani de Waal, far left), with her daughter Ivanka (Kolette Tetlow) and her mother Baruška (Donna Garner) (photo by Joan Marcus)

While she was playing Vicki in The Fully Monty at the Rose Theater in the Southern Ontario city of Brampton, a fellow cast member encouraged Donna Garner to audition for the upcoming tour of Once. “I didn’t think there was anything in the show for me,” Garner says, “but he persevered and I auditioned.”

Cast in the role of Girl’s mother, Baruška, Donna Garner says, “I had to learn to play the accordion. I learned it in eight days…. The right hand really wasn’t the issue. It was the left hand that I really had to work on. Luckily, all that work paid off.”

The tour, which commenced on Oct. 1, 2013, is now booking well into 2015, she says. “The show is really popular right now, and there’s no end in sight,” says Garner.

She adds, “I had sung in Czech for my voice degree, but I worked on a Czech accent with a dialect coach for my audition…. There are a lot of Czech immigrants in Ireland, and that’s an area that I looked into as well.”

Donna Garner says, “I don’t think the tour differs that much from the Broadway production. It’s different people playing the parts, and we all bring different ideas to our roles…. In fact, we were encouraged to find out own characters, and not just copy the Broaday performances.”

Garner says that Once unfolds on a single set — which is a working Irish pub — with lighting creating other playing areas, such as the street, Guy’s house, and Girl’s home.

“A lot of secondary characters are fleshed out much more in the stage production,” claims Garner. “We see more of those characters and more of their struggles. In the musical, all of the performers play instruments.”

Donna Garner says, “Once encourages people to think about their lives, the good things and the bad things. It makes us look at relationships in a different way. I think that that’s the best thing about this show, coupled with the beautiful music.”

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 16th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x402898767/-Guy-in-Once-musical-owes-some-pints-to-supporters; Jan. 15th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Emma D. Miller: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/once/Event?oid=3695420; and Jan. 9th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh interview with Matt DeAngelis, conducted by Larisa Mount: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interviews-ONCEs-Matt-DeAngelis-Discusses-the-Shows-Unique-Sound-and-Heart-20140109.

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents ONCE at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21-23, 8 p.m. Jan. 24, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 25, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco District.

TICKETS: $42.75-$126.75 (including fees).

BOX OFFICE:

DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@dpacnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1789689.

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services.

SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/once and https://www.facebook.com/events/534791209877054/.

VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGLh9GchpE4 and http://www.youtube.com/OnceMusical.

TOUR CAST: http://www.oncemusical.com/tour-cast.html.

CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.oncemusical.com/creative.html.

DPAC NEWS RELEASES: http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/once-announces-tour-cast and http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/tickets-to-once-on-sale-friday-aug-16-at-noon.

SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/getting_here.

PARKING: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/parking_guide.

OTHER LINKS:

Once (2007 Irish musical film): http://www.foxsearchlight.com/once/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).

Once (2011 Off-Broadway, 2012 Broadway, 2013 Dublin, and 2013 West End musical): http://www.oncemusical.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/OnceMusical (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/OnceMusical (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).

Glen Hansard (music and lyrics): http://www.glenhansardmusic.com/songofgoodhope/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glen_Hansard (Wikipedia).

Markéta Irglová (music and lyrics): http://marketairglovamusic.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark%C3%A9ta_Irglov%C3%A1 (Wikipedia).

Enda Walsh (book): http://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/enda-walsh/ (Curtis Brown bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enda_Walsh (Wikipedia).

John Tiffany (English director): http://www.broadwayworld.com/people/John-Tiffany/ (BroadwayWorld.com bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Tiffany (Wikipedia).

Donna Garner (Toronto actress): http://www.broadwayworld.com/people/bio/Donna-Garner/ (BroadwayWorld.com bio).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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