When Northwestern student-turned-Broadway actor Alex Nee was picked in 2013 for the national Broadway tour of "American Idiot," he was just about to graduate in June as he launched his new stage career.
"I finished 'American Idiot,' I then joined the cast of 'Once,' and that's where I've been the past two years," said Nee, who usually tours in the role of Andrej but also understudies for the male lead role of Guy, usually played by Stuart Ward.
When "Once" returns to Chicago after a nearly-sold-out run in October 2013, it will be Nee stepping into the spotlight as Guy for the Broadway In Chicago's one-week of performances at Cadillac Palace Theatre June 2 to 7.
"Once," which was also named Best Musical by the New York Drama Critics' Circle, Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel Awards, ran for more than 1,100 performances on Broadway with acclaimed international productions from London and Melbourne to Japan and South Korea.
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Any pressures with being cast as the lead for a 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, aren't any concern for Nee.
"I've gone on for Stuart for the role of Guy in the past," Nee said.
"I just have to remember how different this character is compared to the one I'm usually playing."
"Once" is based on the 2006 Academy Award-winning film. The musical 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.
The set and costume design are by five time Tony Award winner Bob Crowley with lighting design by Tony winner Natasha Katz and sound design is by Clive Goodwin.
"Once" tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. Two complicated lives are touched by romance and a connection during the course of one week, as unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a special and emotional journey told with songs.
Nee said there is a strong and devoted kinship fans are attracted to because of the music and characters, as evidenced by the Oscar winning independent Irish film, of the same name "Once," which was made for $150,000 and shot in just 17 days. It went on to gross $20M worldwide, becoming a critically acclaimed international smash. It won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original song for "Falling Slowly," the hauntingly beautiful ballad woven throughout the Broadway musical as well.
"Once" was originally developed at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. in April 2011 before a developmental run at New York Theatre Workshop in November 2011.
To understand the complex character of Guy, Nee worked with Ward for insight.
"I'm 23 years old and there's a certain weariness that comes with who the character of Guy is and I've had to work to develop that part of this man," Nee said.
"This has been my biggest challenge. Playing the guitar, the singing and learning the accent, these things are all mechanical and haven't been an issue for the two dozen times I've played Guy to step in as the understudy."
Nee also reminds audiences to arrive early to visit the "real" onstage pub that serves as the set for the musical and is open to the audience to buy beer and enjoy the live music played as a "pre-show."
"Audiences walk in to find their seats and they don't understand what's going on with people walking up to the bar on stage and ordering drinks," Nee said.
"It's part of the experience. And the same thing is available during intermission, only, the musicians aren't on stage doing the jam session like before the show."