ONCE at Darlinghurst Theatre Company

Once is a tender love story of a struggling Irish musician on the verge of giving up and a piano-playing Czech immigrant who reminds him how to dream. 

Featuring an outstanding ensemble of performers playing instrumentals live on stage. Once is a modern-day musical that reminds us of the power of music to connect us all.

Rosie spoke with performer Toby Francis about finally bringing this musical to Sydney and why music is such a universal language. Read the full review below:

Toby Francis

A versatile performer, our readers may remember you from theatrical hits such as Kinky Boots, We Will Rock You: Arena Spectacular and Jesus Christ Superstar, all of which are known for their high production value and grandiose nature. What’s it like for you to be working on a more intimate musical on a smaller scale? Have you faced any challenges shifting to a different style of musical?


It feels a bit like coming home, in a way. Before Kinky Boots, I was performing in cabaret and more intimate musicals like Dogfight and Truth, Beauty, and a Picture of You at Hayes Theatre Co. They are very different experiences and each time you sort of have to remind yourself of the venue you’re performing in. It’s like, “this isn’t in an Arena, you don’t have to be so big.” I love performing in both spaces for different reasons, but Once is probably the most perfect fit for a 200 seat theatre space. It feels like coming back to where I started, in a way.

Once is finally receiving its Sydney premiere after audiences were left disappointed in 2015 when the show hit Melbourne and then didn’t tour the rest of Australia. Are you excited to finally bring this show to Sydney? How do you think Sydney audiences will respond to the show?


I remember the Melbourne production being announced. Every actor/ musician wanted that show, to be cast in it. There’s something about it. And then, everyone went to see it even if they didn’t book it because it’s so beautifully told. It didn’t matter if you didn’t get cast in it, you just wanted to be part of it. It’s really stunning how well put together and how beautiful it is. It’s very human. I’m beside myself that I get to be part of it here in Sydney. It’s a bit of a gift. I think audiences are going to see a part of themselves in it. I certainly do. And everyone I know who saw it way back when in Melbourne did too.

Once has been described as “a modern-day musical that reminds us of the power of music to connect us all.” How do you think music helps us make these connections? What song in the show resonates with you the most?


It’s a bit of a cliché to call music the universal language but it really is. With a few exceptions, you can describe accurately your emotions and experiences with nothing but noise. You hear a minor phrase and you know its not cheery, you hear a major and you know it’s not all doom and gloom. Music speaks across cultures while sharing essences of cultures because it was there before words were. We heard before we spoke. It’s almost primal. You don’t have to analyse it to enjoy it. There’s a purity in that. As for the song that most resonates, it depends on the day. But I feel very connected to Leave and Say It To Me Know at the moment.

Rather than a separate orchestra, Once has a unique interaction with its live music, with an ensemble of performers playing instruments live on stage. How does this add to the magic of the story, and has this changed the rehearsal process?


To be able to see everyone playing their own instruments changes the feel of the show massively. Talking about music as a way of communicating, it’s different to see someone accompany themselves as it has their feel and accent it to. When you’re accompanying yourself, it feels more like a speech or a monologue. Then when everyone joins in, it’s a shared conversation. It’s incredibly fun and incredibly effective. But it has changed the rehearsal process. There’s a lot of patting of our heads while rubbing our tummies so to speak. Even simple songs are challenging when you have to move around while doing it. It’s meant a lot more laughing at ourselves. It’s been really wonderful.

Many of our readers may know the story of Once from the critically-acclaimed film of the same name, that was released in 2007. For a story that was developed in the early 2000s, how do you think the story has aged, and will it still resonate with audiences in 2019?

Absolutely. It’s genuinely timeless. The story fits anywhere because it’s not about politics, it’s not about the values of the time, it’s not about the technology or espionage of the time in which it was written or anything like that. It’s just about two people. And the story of these two has been told about two others before it was told about them. And two before that and two before that. We’ve all been in the middle of some real, true love that wasn’t simple and easy and the agony of that is universal yet quiet. This show captures that perfectly and tells it in a way that is interesting and engaging. It’ll be relevant in 3007.



Favourite production you have ever seen?

LPD’s Cry-Baby at Hayes Theatre Co.


You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?



Dream role to perform?

Dr Pomatter (So I can perform three roles that my Twitter/Instagram mate David Hunter has performed. He was Charlie in Kinky Boots and Guy in Once, he’s currently Pomatter on the West End.)


Plays or musicals?

Both, why choose?


A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

I love board games and chess and I try to write a lot to wind down. But I also fall down a hole of learning about whatever has been grabbing my attention around that time. Watching Chernobyl recently sent me into a want to know all about the USSR. I just realise I’ve never sounded cooler in my life...


What’s next for you after this show?

Who knows? There are I few things up in the air at the moment so maybe I’ll head off and travel around for a bit? Maybe visit Dublin?

ONCE opens at Darlinghurst Theatre Company's Eternity Playhouse on July 3, 2019. You can get your tickets here.

Credit: Robert Catto

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