If you've seen Once in any of its incarnations over the past three and a half years, odds are good that Anne L. Nathan and David Patrick Kelly were dancing round the show's onstage pub, jamming on their accordion and mandolin as Baruška and Da.
The theatrical adaptation of John Carney's 2007 musical film began its life at Harvard's American Repertory Theater in 2011, followed by a run off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop. In 2012, the humble production eventually made its way to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, where — among much glitzier company on 45th street — it has been basking in the glow of its eight Tony Awards ever since.
Nathan and Kelly, two of the company's most seasoned veterans, have been with the production for every one of these milestones. With approximately 1,200 performances under their belts, Once's reigning patriarch and matriarch decided to help TheaterMania bid farewell to the beloved musical before last call on January 4.
1. What is your favorite line that you delivered?
Anne L. Nathan: "F*ck it." Nice and sweet. Top that.
David Patrick Kelly: "On Raglan Road on an autumn day, I saw her first and knew." It's from the pre-show song I've sung 1,200 times now.
2. What's the best inside joke from your show?
David: We have a [song] list in the pre-show, and early on, Lucas Papaelias was reminded of his college days when he would see the cast list and wouldn't be happy with it. You'd say, "This is bullsh*t." So every night now when we see the set list for the pre-show, we all say, "This is bullsh*t."
Anne: Back in the day, I had a scene with [the young girl who plays Ivanka]. At the time, we were trying to figure out how to carry her, because she's just too heavy for me, so there was a period of time where she was carried on her back — a little bit like Ophelia. It was very dramatic and every time I walked on, Paul Whitty would say, "Your daughter's dead."
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
Anne: There was one time with Ben [Hope] where he was actually handed the wrong guitar. There's a guitar that's specifically tuned for the song "Gold." He kept trying to figure out what was wrong but the notes were completely wrong. So I went off and I came back on with the guitar and I was rushing so much that I came on and I went, "Here you go." The character went out the window…I can remember completely not being Baruška anymore.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
Anne: I get a lot of accordion jokes. I get a lot of toy accordions and accordion men and accordion cards.
David: I did Twelfth Night with Helen Hunt and one guy gave me a beautiful CD from the PBS version of that.
5. Who is the coolest person who came to see your show? (You can't say family!)
Anne: Bruce Springsteen.
David: Vanessa Redgrave. I saw her on that very same stage do Orpheus Descending.
6. If you could join the audience in a pre-show drink, what would it be?
Anne: Margarita rocks no salt.
David: Guinness. Very healthy for ya.
7. What is the most memorable thing an audience member has ever done onstage?
Anne: We had a woman bring her own spoons. She actually had to go, "Honey, I'm gonna go get the spoons. I'll be right back. You get the tickets, I'll get the spoons." She was good. She played along with us.
David: I had a lot of people dancing with me early on. I'd pick an older — venerable person from the audience and dance with them. We [eventually] couldn't do it for insurance reasons, but that was fun.
8. Who in the cast has the most difficult job dancing with their instrument?
Anne: Andy Taylor, cello. Early on at A.R.T. I played the accordion and I was smart enough after A.R.T. to say no more, so I switched to a tiny squeezebox. But God bless him, he dances with that cello and that is a big feat.
9. There have been several covers of "Falling Slowly." Which is your favorite rendition?
Anne: I'm a purist. There's nothing like the original. When I first saw that movie, I remember walking out of that theater saying that's the best musical I've ever seen. I love my cast, but Glen [Hansard] and Markéta [Irglová]…
David: Nothing like it.
10. Who is a person who made a significant impact on your life within a short period of time?
David: Me mother gave me me mandolin in 1964 on St. Patrick's Day. It really was a magic charm. It got me through high school — got me into show business essentially. I'd never really thought of myself as musical theater people but I am. Hair was my first show in Detroit in 1970 and that was because I auditioned with that mandolin.
Anne: A teacher I had in college, Fran Charnas. She was the first teacher I ever had who helped me embrace being a character. I wanted to be the tall skinny blonde girl — that person that everybody thinks they want to be — and she was the one that really made me believe that what I had to offer was awesome.