This year, Mackenzie Lesser-Roy left a degree plan and her home on the East Coast to join the national tour of Once, a modern musical that bravely invites the audience into the intimate world of the characters, who struggle through life but find hope in their music. Adapted from the 2007 film of the same name, Once is a love story, but so much more than that. As the actors sing and play their instruments live on stage, the depth of their connection and the meaning of perseverance is newly defined for audiences.
Once visits Albuquerque's Popejoy Hall this March on its four-month long trek around the nation. In anticipation of the eight time Tony Award winning show's opening night in our city, I was lucky enough to speak with Lesser-Roy while the production was camped out in Indianapolis.
Alibi: What was your first encounter with this story?
Lesser-Roy: I've been a musician and into theater my whole life [and when] I was 16, I saw Once. It was really a life changing experience. I saw that the actors and actresses were creating something so beautiful on stage … [and] I really wanted to be a part of it. I loved it so much that I took my boyfriend later to see it for a second time.
What in particular do you find attractive about the character of The Girl (the leads are not given names and remain simply “The Guy” and “The Girl” throughout)?
Girl is very complex and complicated. As an actor, I like her because she's so real. So often in theater you come across these characters that you can't connect [with] very easily. This girl is so real [and] also really strong. Since the first rehearsals she's become someone that I really admire and aspire to be like. She's forthright and would do anything for the people that she loves. I think that's really admirable and because of that I look up to her in a way.
When they sing, the characters in Once reveal a lot about themselves and their inner lives. Has performing this part revealed anything to you about yourself, the world or theater?
I was nervous because I'm giving up so much to do this. [I thought] I don't know if I'm ready, I don't know if I can do this … But [being involved with this production] I learn something new every single day … Even if you perform it over and over, you still are able to make little connections that you never ever knew were there [before]. I've also learned to just … to just go for it, really. A lot of characters confront their fears and the decision whether to stay comfortable or to take a chance and risk being hurt … There's one line in the show, The Guy's father says to him: “Just live” and that's really the heart.
This is your first national tour. How has that experience been?
It's been wonderful … Like I said before, I was very nervous because I'm the youngest person in the production and I was pulled out of school, but it's so exciting. When they offered me the part I couldn't say “yes” fast enough … I'm literally living my dream.
What's been challenging about doing a tour and not being at the same venue nightly?
The hardest thing is probably [that] no matter how tired I am I have to remember that some [people in the audience] are seeing this for the first time. I had my experience because when I was 16 the people on stage gave it their all that night and recognized how important the story was. So, it's really important for me to do that too.
Can you talk a little about the set design and how it impacts the story?
It takes place in a pub, which was chosen very purposefully because we really want to make it as familiar as possible … there's this pre-show before the play [where] everyone's on stage playing music and the audience can come on the stage and buy drinks. It's so unusual to see that kind of interaction … That's actually a huge part of the show … they want to break the fourth wall, they want it to be an immersive experience.
What can audiences expect to feel during this production, and what might they learn?
They're going to feel so much. I think they should come with a very open heart and a very open mind … I think this is one of the very few shows where you will laugh your ass off and you'll also cry … This show is moving because these characters are really real … I think audiences should come in and expect to see real people on the stage … real people with real problems and real relationships. Everything is very tangible—the love and the passion. It's very real. This show is unlike any other.