Playwright Enda Walsh had a banner year in 2011, and 2012 gives signs of continuing in strength.
When the team converting the popular Irish independent film, “Once,” into a stage musical, ran into complications, he undertook the job of writing a new libretto for it. On Dec. 6, the night the stage version of “Once” opened its off-Broadway run at the New York Theatre Workshop, the company was informed that, when the run on East 4th Street was over, on Jan. 15, the show, for which strongly positive reviews were expected, would be moving more or less directly to Broadway.
The notices were generally positive, although perhaps not quite as positive as had been hoped. The reviews, however, were sufficiently strong to justify a Broadway transfer. The show’s position was made even stronger by the fact that 2011 had been a fairly weak year for musicals, with several quick closings and a couple of cancellations.
As things stand, “Once” will play its first Broadway preview on Tuesday evening, February 28, at the Bernard Jacobs Theater, with an official opening night scheduled for Sunday, March 18. That the move to Broadway was set by the time the show opened off-Broadway stands as an extremely singular event, with no precedent that comes to mind. Much credit for the show’s remarkable success goes to Enda Walsh, who was originally not a part of the creative team.
As a beloved independent film, written and directed by John Carney, “Once” dates to 2007 as a modest story of two musicians, an Irish male, a depressed Dublin vacuum cleaner repairman, and a somewhat younger, a lonely Czech female, working as a flower girl.
The male, Glen Hansard, known as the lead singer in the Dublin rock group, the Frames, and the female, pianist Marketa Irglova, wrote the music in the film, which is basically the same score used in the stage version. One of the songs, “Falling Slowly,” won the Best Song Academy Award for 2008.
For a time, Hansard and Irglova performed together as “The Swell Season,” which became the title of a black-and-white documentary film dealing with the relationship between the pair.
That relationship, which had blossomed during the making of the film, “Once,” ended, which is more or less where Enda Walsh came in. (Walsh was once asked if anyone ever called him Edna. His response was “Only credit card companies, trying to sign me up.”)
Walsh has long been associated with Galway’s Druid Theatre. No fewer than three Walsh plays, “Penelope,” “The New Electric Ballroom,” and “The Walworth Farce,” were moved by Druid to St. Ann’s Warehouse in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, his solo play, “Misterman,” recently played a three-week engagement there, with Cillian Murphy as star.
His two-character play, “Bedbound,” was done several seasons back by the Irish Repertory Theatre, and one of his earlier works, “Disco Pigs,” turned up at last year’s Irish Theater Festival. “Disco Pigs” is remembered as a play for which Walsh created a kind of new language, which, as is the case whenever the play is done, confuses a lot of people.
When “Once” arrives at the Bernard Jacobs Theater for its first preview performance on Feb. 28, it will mark the prolific Enda Walsh’s Broadway debut.