Mackenzie Lesser-Roy was about to enter her junior year at Boston Conservatory when she was offered the opportunity of a lifetime - to play Girl, the female lead in the 2016-17 national tour of the musical “Once.” She left school to join the show.
Many roles and performances later, she’s returning to Boston to recreate the same role, this time in the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of “Once.” Nile Scott Hawver plays Guy. Performances run through March 30.
The winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, “Once” is about the power of music to draw people together. The two main characters are simply called Guy and Girl. Guy is a struggling, conflicted Dublin street musician who has lost faith in his talent and his life. Girl is a Czech immigrant who shows him his work is not yet done. Over the course of one fateful week, they make music and an unlikely love blooms. However, complications arise.
With a book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the stage musical is based on the charming 2007 independent Irish film of the same name. The sleeper hit film went on to become a cult classic, receiving the Best Original Song Oscar for “Falling Slowly.”
One of the musical’s unusual twists is having all the actors play their own instruments on stage.
A classically trained musician, Mackenzie grew up just outside of New York City and has been acting since she was a child. She says she’s delighted to be back in Boston. Her return reunites her with SpeakEasy’s Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault, with whom she studied at the Conservatory.
She spoke about her work by phone before rehearsals began. Here’s a condensed look at our chat.
Q. Do you remember your first audition as a child?
A. I auditioned for this audio book called “Girls Rock” and I actually ended up getting it. So I was this little girl who was narrating a children’s book, and I was also one of the voices of one of the little girls in the book. “Girls Rock” or “Girls Rule.” Something like that. I was thrilled to be doing it.
Q. What was the first big show that made an impression on you growing up?
A. My parents really spoiled me when I was a kid. They took me to a lot of theatre in the city because they knew I loved it. But the first show I saw that made me want to pursue this for real was “Hairspray” . . . I remember sitting in the audience, and I was very close to the stage, and I saw these performers giving it their all and having the time of their lives. And I remember saying, ‘I want to do that in front of all these people. I want to bring joy to people the same way that these people have made me so insanely happy’ . . . I remember walking out of the theater with my parents and they’re like “Oh yeah, it was good, it was good.” And I was, “Are you crazy! That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen!”
Q. In terms of auditions, I hear the national tour of “Once” almost didn’t happen for you.
A. I had just finished 11 weeks at the Woodstock Playhouse . . . I came home and the very next day was the open call in New York for “Once” . . . I had a friend who told me about it. I still have the original text message. He said, “’Once’ is going on tour. Go book the role of Girl!” . . . So I went into the city, I put my name on the list, and it was an Open Call. So I had to wait like four or five hours. There was actually a point when I almost left.
A. I kind of psyched myself out. I saw all these older, really talented people around the room, and I just thought, “There’s no way I’m getting this. I’m way too young. Why am I doing this?” . . . But I auditioned and I just continued to get callbacks. Then it got more complicated.
Q. How so?
A. It was going into the beginning of my junior year. So I had to take the train from Boston to New York, I think three times total, to go to these callbacks. And again, I almost didn’t go. . I was like, “I don‘t want to miss school. I don’t want to upset my teachers.” But everybody was, “Kenzie, go!” . . . And I’m very glad that they pushed me to do that because it led to the greatest experience of my life.
Q. And now you’re back in Boston.
A. It’s so incredibly full circle, I can’t even begin to explain. When I first got the part in the tour, I was over the moon, but also very scared. I was 19 and I was worried that I wasn’t ready. I said, “There’s no way!” . . . All the things you tell yourself when you’re worried that you’re not good enough. But I left school to do that show. And the fact that I get to come back to Boston and get my Equity card with the show that took me out of Boston in the first place is really special.
Q. Why do you think audiences are so captivated by “Once?”
A. I think it’s because these people are so real. They’re hilarious and silly and broken and hopeful, and it is so easy to see yourself in any one of these characters . . . They’re odd and offbeat and not these perfectly crafted people . . . This show is equal parts heart wrenching and hilarious. And I don’t think many shows can pull that off. One moment you’re laughing so hard and then the next moment you almost want to reach on stage and give the characters a hug because of what they’re going through.
R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“Once,” through Mar. 30, Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street, Boston. Info: 617-933-8600 or speakeasystage.com.