The heartache of romance gone awry feels just as wrenching as hitting roadblocks in creative output. Both are rooted in love and passion, as audiences at “Once” will see.
The first show of the new season for Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania opens this weekend with performances Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
Based on the 2007 film that earned its stars, Irish folk singer Glen Hansard and Czech musician Markéta Irglová, an Academy Award for best original song, the musical follows the story of a dejected street musician who finds inspiration in a young woman who admires his work.
Mackenzie Lesser-Roy stars as the female lead in “Once,” her second tour with the show following a stint that stretched from January to May this year. In a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Ms. Lesser-Roy shared she was excited to be back on the road with the same cast.
On a leap of faith, the 20-year-old left her musical theater studies at Boston Conservatory to join the show, and she found the experience rewarding and educational.
“It was completely terrifying and a really big step,” Ms. Lesser-Roy said. “But it’s the best thing I could have asked for.
“There really is nothing like putting your skill to the test every night in front of an audience. You learn to become really self-sufficient.”
In preparation for her role, Ms. Lesser-Roy watched the film version and clips from other staged productions a single time each before infusing her character with her own sense of personality and color.
“I think it’s important to see other versions and the history of where it came from, but our director really stressed from the beginning that this is a new show,” she said. “This is our own version, not a copy of anybody else’s portrayal.
“I have a lot of similarities with the character, but this is my first real, professional job. I wanted to do it justice. It takes a little time to figure out who she is, because as we change as people, so do the characters.”
As The Girl, Ms. Lesser-Roy grows closer to her counterpart, the talented but tortured busker Guy (played by Sam Cieri). She often neglects her own needs to lift others up, a characteristic Ms. Lesser-Roy said she strongly identified with.
“I think we both like to fix people, and she walks around and will help everyone else a million times over before herself,” she explained. “I saw this character was definitely in me. She’s part of me.
“These characters are one-of-a-kind, because they’re so human and so real. They’re real-life, awkward, weird people you can find something in common with.”
Though “Once” definitely earns the categorization of musical, the actress said that descriptor should not sway audiences one way or another. Fans of classical musicals will find much to love on stage, while those who don’t usually gravitate toward song-and-dance-heavy shows will find heart in the message of “Once,” which won eight Tony Awards, including best musical, in 2012.
“We hope we can give the kind of experience that leaves you inspired, or leaving the theater thinking about your life,” Ms. Lesser-Roy said. “The story is so simple, but everyone has had their version of what goes on on that stage.
“Everyone has a love story that didn’t work out, so if you walk in with an open mind and open heart, I think you’ll be moved.”
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If you go
What: “Once,” presented by Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania
When: Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
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