Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Cassidy Stirtz, Alex Nee and Marnina Schon in rehearsal for Once.
Music director, Andy Taylor.
The cast of Once during rehearsal.
On a Tuesday afternoon in the Segerstrom Stage, Andy Taylor is animated as he talks about Once (Sept. 2-30, 2017). For this multi-award-winning musical, he balances two roles: music director and the Bank Manager character, a role he originated on Broadway.
“Once is so uplifting,” he says. “The music that this ‘rag-tag’ group of musicians performs will just blow everyone away. We’re all going to be transformed through the power of music.”
His work for Once began the day all the actors were cast for South Coast Repertory’s production.
“Well, actually it started years earlier,” Taylor chimes in with a caveat. “No one could be cast for any single role in Once without years of experience on at least one of the instruments they play in the show—and some of us play several.”
Prior to the start of rehearsals, the cast practiced and memorized the music because they are the “orchestra” for Once. But unlike the orchestra for a traditional musical, the cast of Once can’t read from sheet music during performance.
“Each character in Once is actually an itinerant musician,” says Taylor. “They all have other day jobs, but if you asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, they would say ‘I wish I could just play music.’ When we go into a song, it’s in the context of one musician saying, ‘the verses are in the key of G and then we go the chorus in the key of D and then there’s a bridge and it kinda goes like this’ and then we’re off. No one is pretending to be someone pretending to play music. We are just people who really can play music.”
Taylor created the role of the Bank Manager for the Broadway production of Once. He found everything about the story, the music and the way it had been adapted from the indie film for the stage was nearly perfect. He says the only reason the character plays a cello is because “I am a cellist!” Taylor laughs.
“To put together my two passions of music and acting in a show that well written is truly a once- in-a-lifetime experience,” he shares.
Learning the Art of Music and Theatre
Taylor has felt exhilaration at every point in his career, including the time he portrayed Michael Darling in a high school production of Peter Pan. Taylor was eight-years-old at the time and says he got the gig because he was a fluent reader who nailed the audition. In the show, he got to fly—strapped in a harness and twirling around in the air—and found that pretending to be someone “more interesting than myself” was appealing (until he accidentally was flown into a cast iron bed frame on stage and had bruises on his face for a week or two).
“I still love the part about transforming and telling a good story from a new perspective,” he says. “Frankly I’d love to fly again, but no one has asked me lately. And there’s the whole marks on your face stuff.”
For Taylor, a native of Missoula, Mont., performance, both music and acting, came out of an arts-filled childhood. The stereo seemed to be on all the time, playing music from an extensive record collection, with “everything from the Beatles to Pete Fountain to Isaac Stern to Victor Borge.” It helped that his parents were pianists (Dad, “a jazz guy all the way,” and Mom, classical, who favored Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) and his aunt was a cellist. Taylor and his musical siblings fought for control of the stereo when they weren’t in practicing with their instruments. After graduating from the Oberlin Conservatory, he launched into a career.
“I still play regularly, although I make my living as an actor,” he says.
In addition to Once on Broadway, Taylor also originated other roles:
- J.H. Rodgers in Titanic.
- Howard the goofy weatherman in Moon Over Buffalo with Carol Burnett.
“Nothing will ever compare to spending a year of my young life making people laugh alongside Carol Burnett,” he confesses. “I basked in the love that flowed over the footlights at Carol. But, in addition to being one of the funniest humans who has ever lived, she is first and foremost kind. She knew every stagehand and treated everyone with respect. I will never approach her genius, but I can try everyday to emulate her compassion, dignity, work ethic and generosity.”
Getting Ready for Once in Costa Mesa
Rehearsals for Once will continue through previews; there’s little downtime and lots of hard work. The delight that Taylor finds for this show is that the synergy created by Once is fascinating and thrilling for audiences and delightful and empowering for the actors.
“I truly hope that after the show, people leave saying that was one of the greatest evenings in the theatre they have ever experienced,” he says. “Oh, and that the Bank Manager looked much better in person!”
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