BWW Interviews: Tony Award Winning Actor Scott Waara from the National Tour of ONCE

BWW Interviews: Tony Award Winning Actor Scott Waara from the National Tour of ONCE

So here's the thing... The first time I heard of/saw ONCE was back in college. A group of friends were squishing into a tiny living room in an on-campus apartment (I think there were probably 10-15 of us), and one of the crew decided we were going to watch this totally awesome movie called "Once." So we squished, we sat, we watched. I remember thinking, "Ok, the movie was cute, but man... the music!" There's no mistaking the magic that is Glen Hansard's and Markéta Irglová's music, including their incredibly beautiful, Academy Award Winning song "Falling Slowly."

In 2012, "Once" fans got another surprise... A live show! A live show that not only swept audiences away by it's simple splendor (oxymoron, I know... go see the show and you'll understand), but also won eight of the eleven Tony Awards for which it was nominated. That live show is now on tour and coming to New Orleans this week!

I recently had a nice chat with ONCE's Scott Waara, who plays 'Da' (which I've learned is how our Irish friends say 'dad'), to talk about his experiences both as an actor and a musician, and how ONCE lends itself perfectly to modern audiences.

When was the first time that you were exposed to ONCE?
Friends started telling me about the movie sometime after it came out, and I probably didn't see it until a year or two after the movie was out. But, that was my first exposure, and I just thought it was the best thing I'd ever seen. I thought it was so great. So, it was through the movie.

How did the opportunity to be a part of the cast come up for you?
Well, I was in Los Angeles, and I didn't really hear about the musical because I've been a little bit out of touch with the Broadway scene. I had heard about the musical... that the tour was going out initially, and I think it was already cast. But then, about six months into the tour, my New York agent had had a request from the casting director that I film an audition... that I put myself on tape in L.A. and send them the tape for possible future replacement. So the tour had been out, and I actually ended up going in the second year of the tour. The gentleman that started had decided not to renew his contract, so after the year contract was up there was nobody. But I auditioned on tape in January of last year, and got great feedback, but the tour was just starting up. So then six months later I got a call and I was eventually offered the role based on my taped audition.

ONCE is a lot different than other past shows you've been in. I know you said you saw the movie and loved it, but what was it about being a part of this show that drew you in?
Well, I am kind of... alongside my musical theatre work I have always been a musician, so I've always played guitar, banjo, mandolin... stringed instruments. I have done a few what they call "musician/actor shows" in the past, and so I had... this casting director... I had originated a production of... it was at the Mark Taper [Forum] in Los Angeles in which I played guitar, and that was actually a production co-produced by Deaf West Theatre Company... of BIG RIVER. It was the same casting director, so they know I played instruments. So I think that was part of the pre-requisite for this show is that you have to play a certain instrument. I love that combination. I think that's a really... for a musician and an actor... because we all get asked, "What do you like better? Playing music or acting?" For a show like this you don't have to choose, you get both.

So, let's talk about the music. Being in a show where everyone plays music, do you have to know how to play before, or is that something you had to learn specifically for the show that was new?
Several people had to learn a few instruments... a few songs on a few instruments. I end up actually playing... in the show I'm only really playing mandolin and some banjo, so I knew how to play those before. But, especially some of the people who are swings or understudies, some of them have to cover four or five roles and play four or five instruments, so some of those folks might have had to have a passing knowledge of one instrument or another, but... you know I think some keyboard players had to learn how to play the accordion so there's a little bit of a translation. I don't know that anyone didn't play anything and had to learn, but I think everybody had played one thing or another. I mean, some people that have played cello and violins might have learned how to play guitar, so there's that kind of thing. That's kind of the fun of it, though. You get to be involved and learn something new.

How do you find that audiences react to you guys playing your own instruments? You may have some people coming to the show who would maybe not know that all of the music is done on stage.
Yeah, I think that's true. Yeah. I think it's just kind of one of those fun surprises for the audiences that aren't aware that that's happening... that we are the band. This show has gotten a standing ovation every single night I've been in it. The only exception, I don't want to offend our Japanese friends, but in Tokyo there's a language barrier and they are very polite, but they don't stand. But every English-speaking audience we've played for has been a standing ovation, so I think it's continued to be well received everywhere we go.

So ONCE is a love story of sorts, but what I think is really intriguing is the idea that it addresses that no matter where you're from, what your background is, what your personal story is, music unites all humans in a pretty powerful way. How do you find this idea to be true for our main characters, and for you guys as a cast?
You know, I think you said it. I think that is what is so powerful about the show is that there's this... you know, when you're on tour and spending a lot of time together, if you don't get along it can be awfully difficult. The fact that they've hired really, not only good musicians and actors, but also really good quality people as well, that there's something about the fact that we make music together that definitely knits us together. It can get really emotional sometimes when you sit there on stage and you're playing and you look at everyone playing and it's very powerful. I think that's part of the magic of this show, and I think why it's kept its very, very sweet spirit and very connected, soulful experience for the audience. It's not sentimental, it's just the fact that when you're in the same room with other people making music something happens. It's why people still go to see bands. It's why people still want to be at concerts and hear people making music. We get to make it together, and tell a story, and honestly I've been doing this for a long time and this is just about as special a show as I've ever been a part of. I'm very proud of it.

Tell me about your character. Who do you play, and how does your character fit into the story?
Sure. I play Da... you know the Irish call their dads 'Da.' I play the guy... you know the guy and the girl don't have a name, they're just called 'guy' and 'girl'... and so I play guy's dad. He owns a vacuum cleaner repair business that his son works at, that guy works at, and so I kind of think of him that he very much loves his son, but his son is an artist, and so I don't quite understand him in the way that a lot of parents who have artistic children maybe don't get what drives them and what makes them tick and so on. It doesn't mean they don't love them, but they're a little bit of a mystery to them because they might come from different worlds, so there's definitely that. In just a few scenes that we have together there's this beautiful little story told, and I mentioned before in an interview that my dad is 93, he's still alive, and so I think of him all the time when I'm playing this guy. I think of him and I think of the echoes of our relationship in that, because he was a high school administrator and I was an actor and musician, and I think he still kind of wonders where I came from... how I came out the way I did.

You mentioned that our two main characters don't have names. They're just called 'guy' and 'girl.' Is there a reason that they don't have names? Is there some sort of significance behind that?
Well I think if I recall correctly... I think that's the way it was scripted in the film. And so I don't know what the original motivation for Glen [Hansard] was. I think it probably makes sense just in terms of in a way they're archetypes of a man and a woman coming together, and I don't think there's anything deeper than that behind it. A lot of the play is very specific in terms of these are people in working class Ireland and Czech immigrants, but why they didn't have a name I don't know.

We've mentioned there's a movie, we've talked a little bit about the music, but there's this phenomenon that is the song "Falling Slowly." Everybody knows this song. Whether you know it's from ONCE or not, you've heard it. What is it about this song in particular that just sticks with people?
I think it is a simple... the best songs have this quality that you've... they're familiar even if they've never heard them before. There's the sense of this simple melody, it's simple and it's heartfelt. It expresses a very sweet and simple sentiment without being sentimental. I think it's emotional without being sappy. You know, it's not like it's a complicated song musically, but most good songs really aren't harmonically and musically that complicated. They're accessible. The best songs kind of run a balance between accessibility and interest. It has to be interesting, and the lyrics are strong, and the melody is simple and beautiful. I think there's a purity to it that's maybe a little bit... that makes it a little bit special, and obviously having won the Oscar for Best Song it resonated with people. And it's still beautiful, and Stu [Stuart Ward] and Dani [de Waal] sing it great! They sound great in the show in it, so that's a good moment.

What are some of the other songs that we can look forward to that you really enjoy in the show?
Probably one of my favorites is the Act I closer. It's called "Gold," and it's done differently in the movie, but it becomes kind of a highlight to Act I, and it's reprised... the a capella version is reprised in Act II. I just think it's a fantastic, beautiful song. One of my favorites moments... both of those two moments in the show are some of my favorite moments. I think Dani sings a beautiful song called "The Hill," and Stu opens the show singing "Leave." You know, he's on the street corner and it's very powerful. What's so nice is that this context of... there's a great moment with them in the recording studio singing "When Your Mind's Made Up." It's this kind of interesting tune that really rocks, and it's a high moment in the show. But, I think that's one of the coolest things about the show is that the people in the show who play music are musicians, so it feels like a very sophisticated... it's a very smart musical in that way and that it doesn't... I mean I certainly love classic musicals and everything, but there's something very contemporary about this musical that works.

It seems to reach a wider audience than I think a lot of the classic musicals do.
Totally. Definitely. I totally agree.

Well I've got one more question for you. This is something that when my sister saw the show on Broadway she came home talking about. ONCE has a very unique set in that the show has a lot of scenes in a bar, and the bar on stage is a working bar and audience members can actually walk up on stage and order a drink. Is that something you guys are able to have happen with this tour?
Oh yeah, yeah! Yeah, you can go up and people come around and have drinks while we open our pre-show, and it's fun. So yeah come on up and order a beer and come and drink in the bar with us. Absolutely.

So are you guys just kind of hanging out on stage when that happens?
We do come out. The audience comes up first, but we come about 15-20 minutes to play music before the show starts. So when you get there, get there early come up on stage, have a drink, and listen to some tunes as we segue into the show. That's another thing that's very cleverly done about the start of our show. It kind of segues into the show.

Seriously, how can you beat that? Hopping up on stage and throwing back a beer with the cast, and then sitting back to listen to some good music as a heartfelt story unfolds before you? Sounds like my kind of night! I'll be there for sure, will you? For tickets and more information about ONCE at the Saenger Theatre call (504) 287-0351 or visit


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From This Author Heidi Scheuermann

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