Stuart Ward on Once: “It’s Like a Modern Fairy Tale”

Perhaps one of the most anticipated Broadway shows to come through South Florida this year is the musical about two unexpecting lovers, Once. What originated as a 2006 Irish film was later adapted into a 2012 Tony-winning musical performed on stage with a cast that can not only sing but also play their own instruments.

Led by a man who goes by the name of Guy, Once tells a captivating story of love. Stuart Ward, who portrays the everyman lead, describes his character as a sort of “down-on-his-luck singer/songwriter and things aren’t going too well for him. His mother passed away and his girlfriend just left him, so he kind of decides he’s going to pack it all in and not write songs anymore.”

For the actor, it was easy to relate to the character because he, too, is a singer/songwriter. “It’s quite easy for me to tap into his mindset,” explains Ward over the phone.

Ward was originally the understudy for the production in the West End in London, but only after a handful of months he was asked to take the lead in the touring company coming to the United States. Two years later, he’s still touring with the cast and bringing new life to Guy every night on stage.

In its most basic form, the plot is about a guy who meets a girl. This girl gives Guy a boost of confidence and allows him to see — and hear — music in a different way. “At first, the two may seem like chalk and cheese, but as the play goes on, they kind of realize that they both need something from each other,” says Ward. “Eventually, of course, they start to have feelings for each other and it doesn’t necessarily work out for the best, but at the same time, there’s a very positive element in the fact that they’ve helped each other so much.”

Although the modern musical may feel like it is set in the present, Ward says the whole cast discussed the era. “We came to the conclusion that it actually isn’t set in the present day — maybe ten or 15 years in the past.” He points out how there are a few winks and nods to the decade throughout the show, “For instance, Guy gives her a CD during the show. Now, of course, if it was today, it’d be like, ‘Oh, I just sent you a file you can download some music.’ But if you put that in a musical, it’s not very romantic, is it?” he asks with a laugh.

Ultimately, the drive behind the musical is simple enough: “It’s supposed to be a guy and a girl meet, they have a story, they fall in love — it’s like a modern fairy tale in a way, but it’s a fairy tale with truth and realistic problems and realistic obstacles in the way of love.”

October 6 through 18 at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; Tickets cost $35 to $125.

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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.