Arts & Theater

Maggie Hollinbeck back in Sacramento, with ‘Once’

“Everybody has their moment as a character,” Maggie Hollinbeck said about “Once.”
“Everybody has their moment as a character,” Maggie Hollinbeck said about “Once.” California Musical Theatre

Maggie Hollinbeck, who will play Baruška in the opening night performance of the national Broadway touring production of “Once,” will be quite familiar to Sacramento audiences.

Hollinbeck considers Sacramento her adopted hometown and has made plenty of theater here with the small progressive musical theater collective Artistic Differences, where she was artistic director, as well as with Sacramento Theatre Company, B Street Theatre, the Graham-O-Rama cabaret series and New Helvetia.

Last year she went off to work at the Utah Shakespeare Festival but came back here to play Heather in New Helvetia’s “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road.”

She has truly taken it on the road now as an understudy with “Once,” which features the Academy Award-winning music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Having made her debut with the company last week in Salt Lake City, Hollinbeck will perform opening night in Sacramento.

While on a break from the tour, she sat in a local coffee shop and talked about her journey.

Q: How did you get cast in the show?

A: In such a miraculous way. I was working at the Utah Shakespeare Festival last summer in “Twelfth Night,” and we had a lull in the season – several days off in a row. I saw on the Actors’ Equity website that there was an open call for “Once” in New York, and intuitively I just felt like I should go. I couldn’t tell you why because I’m bit young for the role I’m in and a bit old for the other roles.

Q: Those are pressure-packed, aren’t they?

A: It’s such a long shot going into an open call. You get 30 seconds and whatever – I sang 32 bars of a Carole King song (“Home Again”) on the piano and I did a little 15-second thing on the accordion that I had just learned for “Twelfth Night.” I had never played accordion before last summer.

I felt good to have gone and done it. I went back to Utah to finish out the season and then came here to start rehearsals for “I’m Getting My Act Together” at New Helvetia. The day I got back, the day we started rehearsals, I got an email asking if I could come in for a call-back for “Once.” I was blown away. I told them I was starting rehearsals in California so they asked me to submit a video, which I did. After that they said, “Is there any way you can get here for the final call-back with the creatives?”

So I flew out on a Sunday – auditioned on Monday and flew back Monday night, and they offered me the job later that week. It was a whirlwind.

Q: What does an understudy do?

A: There are 12 onstage company members and six offstage stand-bys. Every night we get to the theater the same time they do, we check in and have our call. There’s the pre-show, the six-song pub jam. We have a working bar on stage so you can come up and get a glass of beer while the onstage company comes and jams for a few songs. They’re just setting the tone and the world of the story.

There are usually a few of us downstairs … playing along to the pre-show, making sure we know our stuff because if we have to go on, we have to know the pre-show music as well. During the show some of us might be staying in the music room and playing along or rehearsing on our own, just running through the show in our heads to keep it fresh.

Q: Who’s your character?

A: Baruška, the girl’s mother. In the show the two main characters are called Guy and Girl, they don’t have names. Guy is an Irish musician who’s getting to the point of giving up on his music. … He’s pretty destitute about it, and he meets Girl, who essentially holds faith for him and won’t let him give up. She has a real strong spirit to her. I believe she inherited it from her mother. Baruška is this very spirited, lusty Czech woman who keeps a household of several Czech friends in Dublin, and it’s a very lively household with loud talk and it’s very different from the Irish household we depict in the show. It’s really fun.

Q: It was such a terrific little movie. How has it been adapted?

A: The movie’s so beautiful. I really love the stage show. It’s different in what I think are good ways. They’ve made a decision to flesh out more characters and create more a world around these two people. So the mother is a little bit of a larger role. The guy who owns the piano shop where she goes to play piano becomes a larger role, and really everybody has their moment as a character in the story. When we’re not participating in the story we all sit onstage and listen and watch and hold space for the story. All the actors are the musicians. Every actor onstage plays at least one instrument.

Q: Have you gone on yet?

A: Not yet. I will be going on for the entire week in Salt Lake City. The woman I’m covering is going on vacation, so I’ll have nine performances in a row. That’s very luxurious, especially before coming home and having friends and family see the one performance I have here. I’m so grateful it’s not my first time going on. I’ll have a little time to get it under my belt.

Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.

Editor’s note: This article was changed to correct the spelling in the headline


Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento

When: 8 p.m. April 14-18, 2 p.m. April 16, 18 and 19

Cost: $22-$99

Information: (916) 557-1999, (916) 808-5181,