Interview: ONCE the Musical Makes its Debut at the Olney Theatre Center This Week

By: Feb. 08, 2019
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Interview: ONCE the Musical Makes its Debut at the Olney Theatre Center This Week

With Valentine's Day quickly approaching (Feb. 14 for those who do not know), have you thought of going to the theater to celebrate?

Well, the Tony-winning musical ONCE could be the perfect gift. The Olney Theatre Center is presenting this gem of a musical based on the 2006 film. It is filled with romantic folk ballads. Love is in the air. Playing "Guy" is Gregory Maheu and playing "Girl" is Malinda Kathleen Reese. Here is an interview with the two leads.

How did you get involved in the Olney production of ONCE?

Greg: ONCE is one of my favorite musicals, and when I heard that Olney was producing the show, I hassled Chris Youstra (the music director) until he got me an audition appointment.

Malinda: I auditioned for the production back in March. I had seen the show twice on Broadway and at the Kennedy Center, so I was very familiar with and had a deep love for the material.

Have you ever performed here before?

Greg: This is my first time working at Olney Theatre Center.

Malinda: No, this is my Olney debut!

Did you see the film and what were your thoughts about it?

Greg: I love the film. It is a great example of how a small budget and simple equipment can sometimes grant the freedom to tell a simple, beautiful story. There are no frills or special effects, it is examining a relationship grown on a foundation of music in a pure form. The musical does a great job of augmenting the film, layering in a sense of community that was less present in the story's original incarnation.

Malinda: The film is so unique; the documentary style filming, the use of music not as a simple score but as an emotional tool, it's pretty singular. It's stunning in its simplicity, which is incredibly difficult to pull off.

With Valentine's Day fast approaching, is this the perfect musical to celebrate and why?

Greg: I don't necessarily think of this musical as an exploration of a romance, but it is a story of love and desire for connection. The characters in this play are desperate to be heard, to be listened to and to be loved, and music presents an opportunity for them to find what they need, and to overcome the mental blocks that are keeping them from their dreams.

Malinda: Even though the relationship never manifests itself as explicitly romantic there's something so pure and beautiful about a relationship that is so intense, but has a distinctive beginning, middle and end. It's a book that was written and completed over the 5 days that they knew each other. I believe that is a pretty universal experience; many of us have experienced that chemistry with someone, but the circumstances don't necessarily support a romantic relationship. There are always people in our lives who come and go but leave a lasting impact on us, and there are few pieces of art that celebrate that as beautifully as this show. It's an underrated, transcendent kind of love.

What do you think about the relationship between "Guy" and "Girl"?

Greg: That's too complicated a question to really fully explore, but something that I really love about the relationship between them is how special the connection is right from their first meeting, and how the efforts of creating music together also acts as a crucible to purify their souls and hearts of the baggage of fear and past pain that is keeping them from their potential. They inspire one another and help draw out the magic within one another.

Malinda: They are a perfect example of how much goes unsaid when there's music involved. The first song "Falling Slowly" we sometimes compare to a first kiss. The connection that's forged between two musicians when they make beautiful music together for the first time can't be intellectualized or explained. It's just a feeling that they and the audience get to experience together. I think that makes the Guy and Girl one of the most accessible romances for the stage; the music takes the audience right to where we are emotionally with no barriers of thought or language.

When you first saw the film or read the script, did you think they would get together?

Greg: I think from the first moment, the connection between Guy and Girl is clear. It's a story of a connection that even their friends in the play can see-- Girl's best friend says to her, 'He has the same soul as you'. It's hard not to root for them as a couple.

Malinda: I saw the film for the first time when I was pretty young, so I of course thought the film would fit the mold of every other film I'd ever seen about a relationship. Experiencing it now that I'm older the question of whether they'll end up together is very secondary. You're called upon to accept the unique qualities of their love in particular and celebrate it for what it is.

Did you both play the piano and guitar before the auditions?

Greg: I played guitar, but only in a recreational sort of way. This show has required me to stretch as a musician in many different ways.

Malinda: I took piano lessons when I was 5 to probably 8 or so, but other than that, no! It's been a real joy learning the instrument, and I hope to keep it as a part of my life moving forward.

What is like to interact with the actors/musicians in a show?

Greg: This is my first time playing as a part of a band in a production, and it has been really enlightening to experience how difficult it can be, particularly when also tasked with delivering lines in character and doing choreography. There is a closeness and intensity of listening that has developed between the company members on stage that is special. This show also requires a lot of trust in your collaborators, as all instruments (and as such actors) are vital throughout the story telling. If someone misses a musical entrance, it can cause ripples that derail the entire scene.

Malinda: This show relies on the casts ability to lock in with each other and make magic. That is no easy task and takes a tremendous amount of practice and struggle, but when it clicks there's no better feeling. The camaraderie in this cast is fantastic. Everyone has the understanding that this is an ensemble show, so we maintain that responsibility of caring for one other on and off stage.

How has it been to work with Music Director Christopher Youstra on stage and in rehearsals?

Greg: It has been a lot of fun. I've worked with him several times before with him as a music director, but ONCE is requiring us both to work in different capacities. This process has been collaborative from the get-go, and Chris has been instrumental (pun intended) with regards to that. He has allowed all of the company members to explore and play to their strengths as musicians, and he has re-orchestrated certain moments and encouraged alternatives to allow us to make this production truly our own.

Malinda: Chris is our fearless leader and our biggest advocate. He pushes us everyday to fine-tune and improve individually and as a whole. It's very special to have him up there with us for every show.

Can you describe how the director Marcia Milgrom Dodge works with you both?

Greg: Marcia is a dream director. She is a wizard with regards to casting, and encourages us through the process to make strong, bold choices, even if it means falling on our faces. She has a clear vision of what she wants, but allows us to bring our own thoughts and ideas to the table to incorporate.

Malinda: Marcia is a force of nature. She leads with a firm and loving hand, and she her doors are always open. It feels like a collaboration and an exploration everyday in rehearsal, which is the best scenario when you're working with this material.

What plays have you been in that you believe prepared you for these roles?

Greg: I'm not exactly sure that I can pinpoint any one particular production that has prepared me for ONCE. There are lessons to be learned in nearly every production you are a part of, and I would like to think that past productions, life experiences, and relationships I have experienced up until this point have holistically contributed to what I can bring today. Maybe that sounds like a non-answer, but something that I really love about being a stage actor is that every show is an opportunity to bring something new to your performance.

Malinda: My thesis project in college was actually inspired by the style of ONCE! We wrote and devised a show in which the actors played the instruments in a mix of musical theater and folk style music. That show got me used to playing music with a group of people and blending vocally.

What do you hope the audience learns from the show?

Greg: If we can get audience members to walk out of the theater with their hearts a little more open and with fear taking a backseat to their dreams and goals, I think we will have served the piece well.

Malinda: I hope that people walk out of the show thinking "hmm I should go pick up my guitar" or "I haven't touched my piano in years, maybe I should try it again." That would be amazing. And I also hope that people experience the joy of these characters and the actors themselves working as an extraordinary team with a deep passion for music and a desire to connect with each other. This show is about the power of music and connection at its core, and the audience should feel that in their souls if all goes well!

ONCE plays until March 10, 2019 at the Olney Theatre Center. For tickets, call 301-924-3400 or visit


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