A musical homecoming 

Holland native Travis Greisler returns to direct ‘Once’ at Bucks County Playhouse

Full circle: Holland native Travis Greisler is directing the award-winning musical Once at New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse — the first stage he ever performed on at the age of 8. Source: Travis Greisler

When asked what they want to be when they grow up, most kids will provide answers along the lines of “superhero” or “firefighter.” But at the age of 6, Holland’s Travis Greisler had already recognized a unique calling – he wanted to be a director.

Not surprisingly, Bucks County was lacking in classes for elementary school directors, so young Greisler concocted a backup plan – he would be an actor, a role that would still grant him a firsthand glimpse into the world of directing.

At 8 years old, Greisler landed his first theater gig in simultaneous productions of Pinocchio and Jack and the Beanstalk at Bucks County Playhouse. For Greisler, it was an unforgettable experience, and he promised himself he would someday return to New Hope.

Fast-forward a few decades (which saw Greisler relocate to New York, appear on Broadway in Who’s Tommy and the national tour of Les Miserables, and serve as the associate director of The Cher Show), and that dream of “someday” is finally becoming “today.”

Greisler is making his almighty Playhouse return to direct the multi-award-winning romantic Broadway musical Once, which will conclude the theater’s 80th anniversary season and run Nov. 8-30.

“It’s a huge full circle to come back to the stage I first ever stepped foot on,” Greisler told The Times. “And this is my first major regional theater directing experience. Thankfully, Bucks took a nice chance and is allowing me to come and take a stab at it.”

According to Greisler, Once is much more than a story of romance. In fact, he described the musical as “deceptively complex.” Each of the 12 cast members is a quadruple threat actor/dancer/singer/musician who must also master various Irish and Czech dialects, since the production is set in Ireland.

“There are so many things going on,” he said. “They really, very quickly have to learn so many different elements of this show.”

Once transports audiences to the streets of Dublin where Guy, a struggling singer-songwriter, is on the verge of giving up on his music. When a Czech immigrant, Girl, hears him play, she refuses to let him abandon his guitar. In the span of a week, an unexpected friendship and collaboration evolve into a powerful but complicated love story.

The musical is based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney, and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Additionally, the folk/rock score of Once, which includes the popular song “Falling Slowly,” has been honored with Grammy, Tony and Academy Awards.

Typically, explained Greisler, early rehearsals for musicals involve a simple piano in the corner to support the cast until it moves into the theater, where it’s introduced to the orchestra for the first time.

“It’s everyone’s favorite day because you’ve been working so hard on the show, you’ve almost forgotten that there’s this entire other component that is the orchestra that makes everything swell and have the oomph that’s missing from the piece,” said Greisler.

But in the case of Once, where the cast members double as the musicians, that “oomph” was present from the first day of rehearsals in New York on Monday, Oct. 21.

“From moment one of our rehearsal process, they have the instruments with them, and it is so thrilling to hear this gorgeous score. They are the orchestra. And because they’re actors too, they’re playing with such passion and feeling,” he said. “We’re just over the moon because it’s so emotional. This music is so powerful.”

In true Bucks-native fashion, Greisler is ensuring local audiences are treated to multiple surprises throughout the production. For example, instead of having Once take place in the traditional Irish pub setting, the Playhouse version will be a little different, to say the least.

“If you look really closely at our set, you’ll suddenly realize that the entire show is set inside the bellow of an acoustic guitar. So our show is actually inside of his guitar, the character Guy,” Greisler said. “All furniture pieces in the show are going to be deconstructed pieces of instrumentation. All of our tables will look like guitars that have fused together, the bedside lamp might look like a trumpet that has a lampshade on top of it. Our chairs will look like violins. It has the sort of collective, musical language even in the metaphor of the room that we are inhabiting together.”

Once stars Matt DeAngelis (Once first national tour) as Guy and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy (Once second national tour) as Girl.

The cast is also packed with other Once alumni including Ryan Halsaver (BCP’s Buddy and Once at John W. Engeman Theater) as Eamon, Jacob Brandt (Once at Weston Playhouse) as Andrej, Lauren Wright (national tour of Mamma Mia!, Once at Fulton Theatre) as Reza, Tina Stafford (BCP’s Ebenezer Scrooge’s Big Playhouse Christmas Show and Once first national tour) as Baruska, Seth Eliser (national tour of The Lightning Thief, Once at Weston Playhouse) as Svec, Jenn Chandler (MacBeth at Utah Shakespeare Festival, Once second national tour) as Bank Manager, and Brandon Ellis (BCP’s It’s A Wonderful Life and Broadway’s Bandstand and Once) as Billy.

The production will play the following schedule: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 2 p.m. (plus an additional evening performance on Wednesday, Nov. 27, at 7:30 p.m.), Thursdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (except no show on Nov. 28, Thanksgiving Day), Fridays at 8 p.m. (plus an added matinee on Nov. 29 at 2 p.m.), Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. The opening night performance is on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets start at $65. Special group rates are available for 10 or more. For full details and to purchase tickets, visit buckscountyplayhouse.org, call 215-862-2121 or visit the box office at 70 S. Main St., New Hope. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com