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The Tony Award-winning musical Once, which starts performances at the Royal Alexandra Theatre on Tuesday, is a bittersweet riff on the archetypal boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl story.But Once isn’t your typical musical, nor was the 2007 film it was based on.In some cases, couples want to literally “be” them, and why not? Yet, reality intrudes and it should be noted that I’m not talking about the Bravo-sanctioned diva drama that dominates the airwaves and the blogosphere. Hansard’s father, a longtime alcoholic, finally succumbs to his drinking and Hansard begins to question the existential struggles of life, while Irglová seeks to find a haven for herself, away from Hansard’s overwhelming presence and that of the pop life that has not been a good fit for her.Couples on the verge of splitting sometimes say that they simply found themselves in different places, wanting different things, or that they have grown apart, and after a while it just sounds like a line, a standard refrain for people who very likely were never really all that compatible in the first place.The catch-22 lurking is that people feel like they know them, Hansard and Irglová.Their relationship projects out into the world and people want them to be together.Its story is far more complex than it initially seems, with the offstage life of the people who starred in the movie and wrote its songs paralleling the fictional world they inhabited in an eerily prescient way.
As she sings in the studio as the credits roll, alone and accompanying herself on guitar rather than piano, there is no hint of wavering or halting in the tone.“It was because he was Irish and exotic, and I had to speak English.”Despite the difference in their ages, the two kept in touch, with Hansard mentoring her as a songwriter, and they finally began to perform together in Europe in late 2005 as a duo called The Swell Season.Then their lives took an unexpected turn, thanks to a name from Hansard’s past.I’m talking about the dream of watching a crush up on the screen and imagining that one day we might find ourselves playing opposite them and having them fall in love with us, not just as characters in a reel story, but our real lives.“Fair play to those who dare to dream.” Softly, those words fell from Irglová’s lips at the Academy Awards when she and Hansard took the prize for Best Original Song.