You've Got to Love Dublin for Dreaming: Once

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Have you seen Once? It's a musical that touches the heart of anyone who loves music. ONCE is the celebrated new musical based on the Academy Award-winning film. It tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. Over the course of one fateful week, their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful but complicated romance, heightened by the raw emotion of the songs they create together.  Brought to the stage by an award-winning team of visionary artists and featuring an ensemble cast of gifted actor/musicians, ONCE is a musical celebration of life and love: thrilling in its originality, daring in its honesty... and unforgettable in every way.

 You've Got to Love Dublin for Dreaming: Once

Why did we love it so? Well, for the story, of course. And for the music, which has stuck with us - we came home and started playing the soundtrack nonstop, for I didn't want the music to end last night. The music was so beautiful, powerful, moving. My favorite song? Falling slowly - take a listen:


We also loved seeing Once because it's about dreams, helping each other, kindness, belief in someone's talent, and connecting with people, deeply. Theatre like this can impact your life in more ways than you can imagine - and over a longer period of time. Who knows what budding musicans were in the audience, and needed a story of belief in their talent? Who knows what heartbreak and longing and love and connection each of us nurtures in our hearts? Who knows what a community can do for each other?

 You've Got to Love Dublin for Dreaming: Once

Once is simultaneously graceful and gritty, and has a naturalism and intimacy that are generally best achieved in film. Which explains why the noted Irish playwright Enda Walsh was less than enthusiastic when he was asked to write a Broadway musical based on the movie. “I guffawed when my agent called and asked me to speak to the  producers,” says Walsh. “I said, ‘What a stupid idea.’ It’s a two-hander with very little plot. It’s delicate. So I called the producers and told them it wasn’t for me. There’s no tradition of musical theater in Ireland, so I rubbished the idea. Then they told me John Tiffany was attached to it as director.” 

The two men are longtime friends, and although Tiffany also had doubts as to the viability of the material as a Broadway musical, he convinced Walsh not to reject the idea outright. “John said, ‘Let’s just take two days, and we can read the screenplay and listen to the songs and talk about it.’ So I said, ‘Okay, we’ll do two days. And that’s all we’ll do.’” 

Not quite. “Those two days convinced us that we wanted to do this show,” says Tiffany. That was the beginning of a journey that led to Broadway and eight 2012 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book (Walsh), and Best Direction of a Musical (Tiffany). The show became such a critical and commercial success that it spawned a London production and a U.S. national tour. 

“I never think about adapting films for the stage,” says Tiffany. “That’s not the way I work. And when I was approached about Once, I hadn’t even seen the film. But one of my best friends said, ‘You will love the music.’ So I downloaded the soundtrack, and absolutely loved it. I’d never heard music like that, and the music is the reason why I wanted to do the show. Not just the music itself, but the fact that it’s a story about creating music, a story about the healing power of music. Immediately I thought, ‘We’re going to be able to see actors create that music in front of us’ That’s really exciting. Actors have played instruments onstage for years, but not always in a show about making music.”   

 You've Got to Love Dublin for Dreaming: Once

In reading through John Carney’s screenplay, Walsh discovered there was much he could relate to. “I’m a big fan of the movie Brief Encounter, and I saw similarities,” says Walsh. “There’s a bittersweet pang that really hurts. Very quickly I thought I was a good match for the material. I tend to write characters that are inarticulate and lonesome, and something comes into their life that changes them. And from listening to the songs, I thought it might be good for me to do something about Ireland, which was so hurt in the recession. I thought it would be sweet to do a little love letter to Dublin. That was my way in.”   

The 12 adult members of the cast play at least one instrument, and are onstage virtually throughout the show. “I didn’t want anyone onstage who we didn’t get to know intimately,” says Tiffany. By individualizing each character, adds Walsh, “we built a community, and that became the heart of the piece. They’re an ensemble of misshapen people who sing and tell the story. Watching them play the music and sing and find their voice is very beautiful and very strong.” 

 You've Got to Love Dublin for Dreaming: Once

ONCE features the Academy Award-winning music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, a book by award-winning Irish playwright & screenwriter, Enda Walsh (Penelope, Hunger, The New Electric Ballroom), direction by the acclaimed Scottish director of Black Watch, John Tiffany, movement by Steven Hoggett (Black Watch, American Idiot) and music supervision and orchestrations by Martin Lowe (Mamma Mia!). The set and costume design are by five time Tony Award winner Bob Crowley (The Coast of Utopia, Mary Poppins), lighting design is by Tony winner Natasha Katz (Aida, The Coast of Utopia), and sound design is by Clive Goodwin.

My tip? Take a winter's night out - go for coffee with your daughter first, as I did, slide into your seats, and watch a musical so powerful, thoughtful, and beautiful that it sticks with you the rest of your life. Love the swishing skirt of a cast member while she dances, the music that brings joy, the countless hours of practice that the talented cast shares with us, the heart of a meaningful story.


ONCE, winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards® including Best Musical and winner of the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, is playing for one more night at Miller Auditorium: Tuesday, January 26.

For more information on tour locations, cast, and more, visit

Part of the PNC Broadway in West Michigan Series, tickets for ONCE are now by calling (269) 387-2300 or (800) 228-9858, online at