‘Guy’ in ‘Once’ musical owes some pints to supporters

Jan. 16, 2014 @ 09:44 AM

Stuart Ward took a risk when he turned down the understudy role in the hit Broadway musical “Once” when it was being performed in London. But he had another job, playing guitar with Sir Cliff Richard at the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and didn’t want to be an understudy. Ward wanted the lead. “Once” has received eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It is based on the Irish film.

When his Sydney job finished, “Once” still needed an understudy for the lead male role of “Guy,” the Irish street musician whose meeting with “Girl” leads to, indeed, beautiful music together.
Ward still wanted the part for himself, but took the understudy job because it was a chance to be Guy, even for a few performances. It was a fortuitous decision. Four weeks later, he was offered the role in the North American tour of the production. Now he has performed in more than 100 shows. Ward spoke with The Herald-Sun by phone last week from the tour stop in Boston. “Once” will be at the Durham Performing Arts Center Jan. 21-26.
“The thing that drew me to ‘Once,’ first of all, would have to be the music. I was already in love with the show before I’d seen it because of the music,” he said. The musical not only captured the essence of the movie, but more, Ward said. It kept its tenderness and simplicity, he said.
Ward has played guitar all his life, and studied theater at the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts. He grew up in Liverpool and still lives in England in theory, he said. Ward misses home, but his parents are coming to see him on stage in the U.S. when the tour goes to Tampa, Fla.
Both his theater and music skills have come together for this role.
“I get asked all the time if I’m an actor or a musician,” Ward said. “I’m both. I want to do both; I don’t want to do just one. I want to do everything.”
The story in “Once” is about Guy, as a busker, who wants to play music and about his confidence to do so as well, Ward said.
“It’s not easy to show your songs. Covers are easy, but your own – it’s difficult,” he said.
Fans of Ward’s performance in “Once” will also soon be able to hear his own music, too, as his debut EP is currently being mixed. It is scheduled for release in February. He recorded it while on the “Once” tour in Toronto earlier this winter. Time was tight. Some stretches of the six-week run included nine shows in five days. Ward went into the studio from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and then had to be at work at 7 p.m.
“It was pretty relentless, but I’m so glad I could do it,” he said. Ward has been writing songs for a decade, so one song on the EP he wrote 10 years ago, and another he wrote during the “Once” tour in Philadelphia. A friend pushed him to just go ahead and record it, even with the tight schedule. Ward said he owes his friend a pint.
Ward’s favorite moment in “Once” is when Guy performs ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up’ in the studio.
“It’s a culmination – he’s dreamt of this moment,” he said. “He gets in there and he just kills it, just nails it.”
For Ward, there wasn’t one specific moment knowing he could be successful.
“It kind of just crept up on me. I’ve been singing since I was 15. Maybe it’s this. Maybe it’s this show, my catapult to do my own music,” he said.
It may not have happened if he was at home in London, Ward said. On the road, the other guys in the show help push him along.
“The ‘Once’ family is very tight. I owe those guys as well. I owe a lot of pints,” Ward said.

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: “Once”

WHEN: Tuesday through Jan. 26
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham
TICKETS: $35-$110
www.dpacnc.com