Any pressures with being cast as the lead for a new Broadway tour for the musical ranked as winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and winner of the 2013 Grammy Award winner for Best Musical Theater Album, don't phase English actor Stuart Ward.
His excitement and enthusiasm to bring this just launched tour of "Once" just continues to grow.
"Despite all of the awards and honors, this is a musical audiences are just discovering for the first time," said Ward, who spoke by telephone Tuesday from Providence, R.I. where the new production was opening that night for the first preview performance of this new national tour.
"This stage tale is certainly a love story, but it's also a very complicated love story. I think this theme rings very true for audiences, since doesn't it seem love is never easy?"
Complicated is a theme that demands an amazing range of skills for this new on-the-road cast, since everyone must, not only sing and act, but also be able to play instruments.
Chicagoland audiences will be among the first in the U.S. to see this new tour when it comes to Chicago right after Rhode Island to play the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, for a limited engagement Oct. 9 to 27.
Ward's road to being cast as the romantic, musical male lead "Guy," wasn't so easy.
Ward, who hails from Liverpool, England, was already playing the understudy for the same role for the London run when the producers for the North American tour approached him last March about leading the new American cast tour. He agreed, but securing VISA and stage paperwork was a more complicated matter.
The production's press releases alert: "Stuart Ward is appearing with the support of Actors' Equity Association. The producers gratefully acknowledge Actors’ Equity Association for its assistance of this production."
"Once" is the celebrated new musical based on the 2006 Academy Award-winning film. The show features the Academy Award-winning music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, a book by award-winning Irish playwright and screenwriter, Enda Walsh, direction by the acclaimed Scottish director John Tiffany, movement by Steven Hoggett and music supervision and orchestrations by Martin Lowe.
An anchored New York City run of "Once" is also still running on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre where it started performances on Feb. 28, 2012.
ONCE tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. Over the course of one fateful week, their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful but complicated romance, heightened by the raw emotion of the songs they create together.
Ward arrived in New York to begin rehearsals on Aug. 19.
"I had a couple days to climatize after the trip, then we got right to it," he said.
"We had a big joint dinner with the New York cast to meet and celebrate. One of the aspects of this tour I'm so pleased about is the director made it very clear from the start that he wanted me to bring my own qualities to who and what I thought this character Guy should be. He didn't want or expect any of us to do carbon copies of what the casts were already doing with these roles in New York or London."
And though Ward had previously spent some time in New York City in the past, he's never been to Chicago, which he admits has him the most excited for the cities he's soon to visit in the coming months.
"Whenever I've talked with other actors and actresses on tours, they'd ask if I've played any runs in Chicago, which they say is the city that is always the most fun when out on the road."