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This Musical Remains the Best Movie Musical-to-Stage Adaptation

Steve Kazee for Once

Adapting movie musicals, or just movies in general, to stage musicals isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s hard, and often one version is far superior to the other. While one of my favorite books-turned-movies-turned-musicals is American Psycho, it is not without its faults. There are successes like The Color Purple, but that went back to the source material of the Alice Walker book, and the Steven Spielberg movie wasn’t a musical anyway. So, the best example of a musical that nails the adaptation from screen musical to stage musical is Once.

The movie tells the story of Guy (Glen Hansard) and Girl (Markéta Irglová) through their relationship, as it fails, until they’re both left on their own. The musical is pretty much the same story and stays true to the arc of the movie, which is frankly why I think it is the most successful example of adapting a movie for the stage. Many have attempted it, and it isn’t just a simple copy and paste deal. First off, movies generally follow a three-act structure, while musicals/stage plays are typically two acts.

That’s why bringing a movie to life on stage is so difficult and why bringing musicals to life in movie form is also incredibly difficult. But then there is Once. Based on the music written by Hansard and Irglová, the musical is very much the same kind of story we got with the movie (which was released in 2007). It’s a sad story and one that the music reflects beautifully, but as someone who loves the movie very much, I was worried about how the stage musical would adapt the story. Luckily, they did an incredible job in bringing Guy and Girl’s story to life.

The power of Once’s music

Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti for Once
(Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

Once is known for its music. It’s something that makes the movie stand out, and while the story is something I’ve grown to love very dearly throughout the years since the film’s release, the music is what drew me in first and foremost. The songs are breathtaking—that’s the only way I can describe them. You’re sobbing one moment, wanting to be in love the next, and then starting the process all over again. Whether it is through listening to Girl singing “The Hill” or singing along to “Leave,” the music tells a story just as much as the actual book does.

And those who didn’t know about the 2007 movie prior to the 2012 Tony Awards were gifted with the beauty that is “Gold.”

Arguably the most famous song from the show is “Falling Slowly,” as it was also the winner of the 2008 Academy Award for Best Song—rightfully so, because it is one of those classics that, to this day, is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. Every version of it is a beautiful rendition because the song itself just lends itself to the artist in question.

The original Broadway cast of Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti made an entirely new generation fall in love with “Falling Slowly,” but it is still, to this day, one of those songs that I just think stands the test of time and will remain gorgeous and addicting for years to come.

Falling slowly … for Once

The Once the Musical marquee
(Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images)

It’s not the first time a movie musical I love was brought to life on stage. Moulin Rouge! The Musical hit Broadway right before the pandemic. The adaptation was, in my opinion, less than great. It was a completely different telling of the story, and while that’s fine, that’s not what I wanted to see as someone who loves the movie so much.

With Once, the minute I walked into the theater, I knew that seeing it would be an experience I would never forget. The show explored grief, hope, and loss all at once and was a perfect example of how you can bring a movie musical to the stage without taking anything away from it. It helped that the moment the audience walked in, the group was playing music in the pub.

The start of the show has the audience all hooked by music already playing and suddenly the tone is brought down by Guy’s first song. So when Guy started singing “Say It To Me Now” and you instantly understood his pain, we were hooked. The lights were still on and we were just having a fun time with the rest of the cast and then suddenly, as the lights slowly faded, we were lulled into Guy’s pain and it’s a moment in theatre I won’t ever forget.

There was something so beautiful about the book, written by Enda Walsh, and the direction from John Tiffany that really just made this a show that has stayed with me all these years. That is, frankly, the power of a good movie to stage adaptation. Fans can embrace it and love it in a way that they did the movie before it, and no one has done that in the same way as Once, before or since.

(featured image: Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.