Production company Smuggler is well known in the advertising industry for its notable commercial productions, home to award-winning work for brands such as Puma, Nike, Burger King, Ecko, and two-time winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or at the International Festival of Creativity. But today, the shop cemented its reputation as a creative force on Broadway, having received 11 Tony nominations for Once--the most of any show on Broadway this year.
The show is a theatrical adaption of the 2006 Academy Award-winning film starring real-life performers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and tells the understated love story of two aspiring musicians, simply known as "Guy" and "Girl." It began its run last year at the New York Theater Workshop and opened on Broadway this March, with Steve Kazee and Cristin Millioti stepping into the Hansard and Irglova roles. Among its Tony nominations were for Best Broadway Musical, Best Actor (Kazee) and Actress (Millioti) in a Musical, Best Director (John Tiffany) and Best Book in a Musical (Enda Walsh).
While the play remains true to the story of the original film, it presents a fresh sense of humor and vivaciousness that make the Broadway production uniquely its own. Kazee and Millioti are especially charismatic--Kazee commands the stage with Hollywood leading man heft while Millioti draws smiles by the minute with her sparkle and spunk. And they're just two of a multi-tasking, multitalented cast of actors who can not only sing and dance, but are also full-fledged musicians. The play also features an intimate twist that makes the audience feel right at home--before the show begins, viewers are invited to go on stage to purchase a beer at the set's pub.
The idea for the production came from a friend of Smuggler co-founder Patrick Milling Smith, Barbara Broccoli, a producer known for her work on James Bond films. "She brought the idea to us," says Milling Smith. "Her daughter had written a paper at school in England about this wornderful Irish movie she had seen. Her mum was moved and then went to see it." As with any successful creative project, "it started with a great idea and a strong story."
But what about the transition from commercials to Broadway? "Well, everything starts with a good dose of naivete and luck, but the rest is pretty similar to the foundations of good advertising--a good idea, great writing and then strong craft and execution," he says.
Yet with the translation from screen to stage, there was a fine line to tread. "We were very wary of taking what is arguably a perfect film and then turning it in to a 'jazz hands' Broadway show," Milling Smith says.
That made the choice of creative partners crucial. "There is a great authenticity and truth in the movie, so we went about looking for a writer and director who could build on that and stay true to all that worked so well for an adaptation. Enda Walsh, who wrote the book for us had just written Steve McQueen's movie Hunger, which was about as far removed from a Broadway play as you could imagine. The minute he was interested we knew at the very least we were going to have something honest and authentic. John Tiffany was suggested to us to direct. He was fresh off the success of an incredible show about soldiers in Iraq called Black Watch and runs the Glasgow national theater. They were a perfect team to continue this delicate story's journey. No cheese. Huge talent. And there we have it."
As for lessons learned, it's not all that different from advertising, in a way: "Championing strong material enables you to pull together the best talent and create a great team," Milling Smith says.
Outside of Once, Smuggler also produced Seminar, a comedy by Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck and directed by Sam Gold. It originally starred Alan Rickman and now features Jeff Goldblum as a literary phenom teaching an intimate seminar to four students. Smuggler is also in development on the stage adaption of The Kid Stays in The Picture, the documentary/autobiography of legendary Paramount producer Robert Evans.