Love Song: Mason Street Warehouse’s 'Once' is a special kind of musical

A classic love story driven by the power of music is sure to win the hearts of many in Saugatuck. Presented by Mason Street Warehouse, Once follows a Dublin street musician down on his luck who becomes inspired to keep going when a young woman is enchanted by his “haunting love songs.”

Their chemistry crescendos as the story goes on.

“What’s unique about the piece is they designed it in such a way that all the actors who are telling you the story also make up the band,” said Kurt Stamm, director and choreographer. “All of the actors in the show also play all of the instruments that are needed.”

That means most of the actors are onstage for the entire show, making it a very one-of-a-kind narrative and storytelling style.

“Almost every single actor plays multiple instruments,” Stamm explained. “One actor has to play guitar, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, drums. It was a very interesting casting process because I’m looking for people with a very specific skill set.”

The story within this distinct musical, based on the film by John Carney, is one of sadness and happiness. 

“When you talk about having another human being in your life basically change your direction and inspire you because of how you make them feel, that’s the essence of the story,” Stamm said.

Two unlikely, broken people — a musician and a beautiful woman — end up finding each other and falling in love.

“It makes it sound like this very serious love story,” Stamm said. “While that is the undercurrent, all the other people in the show provide so much levity and humor and heart to this story. That’s what I think is so real about it. In real life, oftentimes when we’re in difficult situations, we break out the humor. And I find that this show is so well-rounded and beautifully constructed in that department, because here you have this love story that you’re not sure where it’s going to go but circling around it are all the crazy things that life presents you while that’s happening.”

Stamm said that lovers of musicals, theater and simply entertainment will enjoy this show because of its extremely unique qualities.

In 2012, Once won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Orchestrations. In 2013, it won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. 

Besides being the director and choreographer of this show, Stamm is also the artistic director at Saugatuck Center for the Arts. He got his degrees in music and theater at the University of Utah, and spent time doing regional broadway and theater. After studying under a famous director, he realized directing was the path he wanted to follow.

In 2002, Stamm started the Mason Street Warehouse theater company and worked with the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.

“For years, we were two separate nonprofits,” he said. “And then in 2010, we merged them together as one entity. We’re much bigger, we’re much stronger as one unit.”

Sixteen years ago, Stamm walked into an abandoned pie factory, the building that is now Mason Street Warehouse. That factory was closed in 1996 and sat for a few years before Stamm and his colleagues checked it out. For a year, they raised awareness and money for the space and in 2003, they were able to launch their first season — but without some basic necessities.

“In a building that had no running water or electricity, we mounted our first season,with generators and construction trailers that had dressing rooms and bathrooms,” Stamm said. “It was really something.”

Before the second season, the theater was able to install plumbing and electricity. Since then, Mason Street has made 18 renovations to the space and still has more planned.

To see the unique space, be sure to grab your tickets to Once this month. Welcoming in newcomers — whether they’re from Saugatuck, Grand Rapids or anywhere else in the world — is exactly Stamm’s goal as a director.

“(My aim is) to always get people out of their own lives and let them share and experience a story live on stage,” Stamm said.

Mason Street Warehouse
400 Culver St., Saugatuck
Aug. 17-Sept. 2, $44+