Savannah Rep is gearing up for their production of “Once,” a musical based on a film of the same name that follows the story of ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’ and the power of music. “Once” is set in Dublin and features distinctive Irish folk music, making it a fitting show to see during Savannah’s green season. The cast is a talented group of performers, some of whom are local while others are from all over the country. Leading the company is Grammy-nominated vocalist Stacie Orrico.
Orrico rose to stardom between the late ‘90s and early 2000s, achieving domestic and international success at a young age.
“I signed my first record deal when I was 12, so my childhood and formative teenage years were quite unconventional,” said Orrico.
As one can imagine, the music industry proved to be very demanding for Orrico, who says she was “beyond burnt out” by her early twenties. So, she stepped away from the stage, moved to New York and reengaged with music from a different perspective, finding inspiration in all the creative people she found herself surrounded by.
“I met so many amazing songwriters and musicians, and so I started writing for other people. I started working in the studio. If a label was working to develop a new young artist, I would come in and help them . . . in the studio doing vocal arranging and things like that. I started to realize how much I just enjoyed a more collaborative creative process than just being a solo artist and how much pressure that had put on me,” she recounted.
Orrico spent years writing for and working with other artists. Eventually, she connected with New York’s bustling jazz community, which led to her jazz residency at the NoMad Hotel.
“That was just a total dream come true,” Orrico expressed.
After the residency, she attended the T. Schreiber conservatory in New York City to study acting, which she became passionate about.
“I realized I have all these creative, performative muscles that I’ve been using as a solo artist, but I can use those same muscles in totally different ways,” she said.
Orrico moved forward with plans of performing in musical theater and film, but her life took a beautiful, albeit unexpected turn when she found out she was pregnant. Shortly thereafter, she connected with other women in similar situations, and they came together to start a retreat for female artists.
“We did that for a few years, which was also just a really healing process for me to continue undoing some of the identity things I needed to sort through having been such a young artist and having to redefine what it meant to be an artist and what it meant to be a successful, healthy and an effective artist,” she expressed. “So I spent a few years with a bunch of other beautiful women. We would do these retreats where we would bring together not just musicians or actors, but we would have poets, dancers, women who worked with textiles, and journalists.”
The collective was called The Nile Project, and when the pandemic started, the women had to put a pause on the retreats. As the world shut down, Orrico and her husband decided it was time for a change. So they uprooted their family and moved down South to Savannah. Orrico is originally from Seattle and said Savannah wasn’t on her radar, but when she arrived, the city’s creativity and cool factor quickly won her over.
“There’s so many creative people here. Obviously with [SCAD] being here, it attracts a lot of artists. I just knew this is a place where I can come be whatever kind of creative I want to be. It’s not like being in New York or L.A. where everything feels like the stakes are so high. These are people who just genuinely have all kinds of beautiful talent and are excited to collaborate, play, be brave and try new things. Here’s a space to do it,” Orrico remarked.
She got involved with Savannah Rep because she found out that the theater company was putting on the production of “Once,” a musical that she was fond of. She had met the show’s director Francesca Mintowt-Czyz a few times, so she reached out and expressed her interest. With limited musical theater experience, Orrico said she would have been satisfied with working in wardrobe or on the set, but she was elated to land the starring role.
“I feel just so excited. It’s really such a dream to be doing this,” she beamed.
Orrico will be playing the role of ‘Girl’ opposite actor Ryan McCurdy as ‘Guy.’ In “Once,” the characters meet in a bar, each at a crossroad in their lives. They connect through a shared love of music, although ‘Guy’ is on the brink of giving up on his passion for good.
“Neither of us are at a place where we could just connect with another person in a very direct, unguarded way, but the music allows us enough safety and vulnerability to connect. We’re both musicians. We’re both songwriters, and we recognize something in each other that maybe we couldn’t have said out loud. . . Girl sees things in him that he can’t see in himself and becomes determined because of her own story . . . to help this guy. . . She comes alongside and does her darndest to make sure he doesn’t quit and give up for ever, and in the process, it’s a very healing journey for her as well,” Orrico explained.
For Orrico, the compelling story is just part of what makes “Once” so special. The musical talent of the cast is another reason for its appeal.
“The cast is also the band. . . Everybody in this show is playing the music on an instrument and singing the music. Our voices literally create the sound effects for the show. . . There’s something pretty incredible about not relying on anything except one another to carry this whole story through,” she stated.
She said working with such a gifted group of artists has been one of her favorite things about the production.
“I really trust everybody who’s on stage. . . I would go spend a whole evening out chatting with everybody in this cast. It’s just such a cool group of human beings,” Orrico added.
“Once” is a critically-acclaimed production. It remains the only show to have won an Academy Award, a Grammy, an Olivier Award and a Tony. In addition to the music, Orrico credits the relatable storyline for its success.
“It’s this story of the creative soul feeling like its fire is dwindling and about to go out. I think that is the story of life for a human being. I don’t care if you’re a singer or a songwriter, or if you’re a lawyer or a mother who stays at home. I think as we get older, as life becomes more real, that fire is threatened to be put out over and over. And it’s not just creation necessarily, it’s our hope. The hope that we have that we can actually be vital people in the world and make something of ourselves. And the fact that we get up every morning and live our lives actually has some sort of an impact on the universe. I think it can be really hard to hold onto that. So I think that universal message really landed and connected,” she explained.
Orrico encourages people to come out and see “Once” because of the phenomenal cast and the story of hope and healing, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“It’s an important time to come out and be inspired and remember what it is to feel fully alive. I think everyone needs an injection of hope and inspiration. . . It’s about the importance of witnessing each other’s magic as human beings. . . It’s really important for us to be looking up and out and witnessing what is happening in one another because that’s how we get to discover the richness and complexity of ourselves too,” said Orrico.
She is grateful to be a part of the production and to feel so welcomed by Hostess City audiences.
She added, “I just appreciate that Savannah has felt like such a warm and safe community. I feel safe to do this here. And that says something about more than just the people who cast me. I know that I can go up there and do whatever comes out and it might not be perfect, or it might be different every night. But knowing that I’m in a place where people are excited, supportive and generous, that just feels really good.”
Savannah Rep will perform “Once” March 16, 18 and 19 at the Trustees Theater. A portion of the proceeds from the Thursday night performance on March 16 will benefit Tharros Place, a local nonprofit that is opening a residential home for girls escaping human trafficking. For tickets to the Thursday night show, click here. And for more information, visit savannahrep.org.