Sam Cieri sees a lot of similarities between himself and his character in “Once.” Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards, the musical opens Thursday, Feb. 9 and plays until Feb. 14 at Clowes Memorial Hall on the Campus of Butler University. On a national tour, “Once” is presented by Broadway in Indianapolis.
Cieri plays Guy, an Irish musician who is drawn to a Czech immigrant because of their shared love of music. During the course of a week, their friendship develops into something much more, partly owing to the powerful emotion inherent in the songs on which they collaborate. Featuring a cast of actors who are also musicians, “Once” celebrates life and love through music.
After high school, Cieri, a Boca Raton, Florida native, went from being a dueling piano player at The Mirage in Las Vegas to playing music in the New York City subways. After a quick stint as a motorcycle salesman, he decided to come to the theater. Most recently Cieri was seen in “Rock of Ages” as Drew.
“Once” features the music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, a book by award-winning Irish playwright and screenwriter, Enda Walsh and was directed by the Scottish director John Tiffany. It is based on the 2007 Academy Award-winning independent film of the same title, written and directed by John Carney, and which starred Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, with original music and lyrics by Mr. Hansard and Ms. Irglová. They won the Oscar for Best Original song for “Falling Slowly,” from the film.
byteclay.com recently with Cieri by phone from his hotel room in New Haven, Connecticut, one of the stops on the tour, about the show and his role in it.
Where are you playing?
We are playing the Shubert Theatre.
How long have you been with the tour?
The tour started with the present cast two weeks ago. “Once” has been touring since 2013. We started in Utica. Since then we have been to Philly, Dayton, Kalamazoo and more cities after that.
How many cities on this tour?
I haven’t even counted because it is overwhelming.
How long are you with the tour?
The first leg of the tour is until May 29 and then it rounds back again in September.
How has it been for you so far?
It’s been pretty fantastic. I have had a great time. I mean this is a really important show to me and I really like seeing new places. There are a couple cities that are very similar looking but you search through the things that make them specific and interesting and I like that kind of stuff.
Sit downs or one night stands?
It’s all over the place. It’s like tour roulette. It’s a night there, a week here.
Tell me about the role of Guy. Does it speak to you?
Yes. There are a lot of similarities between me and the character and it hits home a lot during the show. He is a guy that got beat up by the world because he kept trying and nothing ever happened. He’s this man who is afraid of life. Life scares him because if you are living and risking then you have the opportunity to fail. That is not something that he wants to do. He blames the world for all his problems so when he meets the girl he realizes that he needs to get his act together and start risking things.
Is he afraid of success or failure or a little bit of both?
I think both. He is afraid that he’s not good enough. He wants success but he doesn’t want to be a rock star. He just wants to do good work. There are certain songs that tell you what it is to be a person and that it can be hard and not pretty. There are moments of beautiful melody in these songs that are so sweet and then at the end there are these raw, screaming, emotions that pore out because that is what we do as people.
How close does that description come to you, the character you play?
Very close. I can say that I tried for years to make it in music but in all honesty I had my head buried in the subways. I played in the subways. I gigged as much as I could but not as much as I should have and there was that fear of “What if I do try and it doesn’t work.” I have one record and I did try on that and it didn’t do anything so I had that one opportunity. I let that beat me down. I have moved past the point of being afraid of failure. Now I embrace that. I love failing.
How old are you?
I am 23.
It sounds like you bring your own life experience to these songs?
Yes. Being someone who doesn’t have any background or training in acting I am trying. I am learning. I play with fire sometimes and there are nights that I pull too much. A performance can be really great but at the end of the night I feel like I have been hit by a truck. I am learning how to pull these things without completely losing myself.
Have you had anyone like Girl in your life?
I have. The romantic in me wanted it to work and in reality it couldn’t. There were certainly things in our lives which made it impossible for us to be together and I got mad at that.
It would appear that there are a lot of parallels between you and Guy?
Yes, it is a pretty intense thing. I had never seen the show so after I got the part I was reading through the script and it was like “Oh, Gosh.”
It sounds like theme of unrequited love in the script really resonates with audiences?
Yes, because it is unflinchingly honest, I think people like that. You walk out and you think “Oh, my God, I have been there. It’s hard.” I think that is what people really grab onto. This show is definitely more than the just the story of relationship. The director never called it a musical. It was a play about musicians which I like. It’s this honest story and play about a group of people that play music but everyone is stuck in something. And something in their life is holding them back and throughout they play they are pretty brutally kicked into movement.
This also sounds like a tribute to music in general.
Of course. That’s the show.
Tell me about your Irish accent.
My sister is a linguistic genius so growing up she was always be learning different languages and spoke in different accents. She kind of rubbed off on me on making it possible to pick up the accent. My Irish accent actually started a couple of years ago when I was playing in this pub and these Irish guys were able to pick up girls with their accents so I asked them to teach me. (laughs). When I came to the show we had dialogue coaches who helped us with our accents. They helped me take the general Irish accent that I had and winnow it into a Northside Dublin accent.
Do ever get feedback from those who are actually Irish?
Yes. I usually get people coming up after the show. The biggest surprise to them is that I am actually not from Ireland but from Florida. We have had a couple of people from Ireland come to the show and they are like “You got it.” It is such a fun accent.
Does actor who plays Girl has a good Czech accent?
It is fantastic. She walked in with it. She is out of this world.
Is everybody in the cast American?
I think we have two Canadians.
What can those who have seen the movie expect?
Every cast is different because of the personalities of their members. There are people in our cast who are very similar to their parts and because of that their honesty is palpable. It’s uncomfortable and seems a little too real.
How about those who have never seen “Once.” What can they expect?
They can expect to cry. They can expect to peek into some real people’s lives. They are also going to have an opportunity to hear some really beautiful music.
Tickets for “Once” are on sale now and are available in person at Clowes Memorial Hall, the Old National Centre Ticket Office, online at BroadwayinIndianapolis.com, or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.