Broadway never felt so close.

Waiting for his big break, 'Once' actor plays enough instruments to be a one-man band

Syracuse, N.Y. -- When the Broadway musical "Once" rolls into town next week, Michael Kurowski will be watching from the audience. He has one of the hardest jobs in live theater: the understudy.

Kurowski, who recently graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, was working three jobs, including the threatening zombie for an escape room adventure, when he got the call to join a touring production of "Once". The musical is based on the movie of the same name about an Irish street musician who almost gives up on his dream, but, along with his band and the girl he loves, goes on to get a chance at making it big.

Kurowski is an understudy for three different roles in the fast-paced show where the actors all play their own instruments. The 22-year-old could be called on at a moment's notice for parts that require him to play banjo, mandolin, bass guitar, piano and harmonica, along with knowing the lines.

Kurowski is no stranger to acting. At 14, he had a part in "Gran Torino" with Clint Eastwood. That small part -- Kurowski had a few lines -- financed his dream of acting, he said.

If it wasn't for that job Kurowski had at 14, he wouldn't have had the money to go to college and study acting in Chicago. He also wouldn't have made the connections that he credits with helping him get this latest gig in "Once".

Kurowski also saw, first-hand, how professional the acting business can be when the right people are in charge. Eastwood, who starred in and directed "Gran Torino", knew exactly what he wanted done each day, so the time on set was organized, short and fun, Kurowski said.

"I was just blown away," he said.

So far, Kurowski hasn't gone on stage in "Once". It's tough when your big break depends on another actor's misfortune. But he's only been with the show a few weeks. Someone is bound to get a sore throat at some point.

Until then, Kurowski will practice the array of instruments, memorize the lines for three different parts, and watch his colleagues from the audience with awe.

"I'm absolutely loving it," he said.

And there's always that job as a zombie in the escape room if things don't work out.

"Once", brought to Syracuse by the Famous Artists Broadway in Syracuse company, will be at the Mulroy Civic Center Oct. 18-20.


Marnie Eisenstadt writes about people, life and culture in Central New York. Contact her anytime: email | twitter | Facebook | 315-470-2246