Waco Civic Theater "Once"

Waco Civic Theatre’s cast for the prize-winning musical “Once” doubles as its band. From left, Austin Ingalls, Roger Houston, Kami Yasko, Erin Shephard, Hannah Hunt, Kat Phillips, Jonah Hardt and Elizabeth Rogers.

The stories of people whose lives don’t normally draw a lot of attention take the spotlight and the stage this weekend at two Waco theaters.

At Waco Civic Theatre, it’s a Irish singer-songwriter and a Czech immigrant who form a relationship over a common love for music in the Tony Award-winning musical “Once.” At McLennan Theatre, it’s three down-on-their-luck sandwich shop employees in “American Hero.”

With “Once,” it takes a multi-talented cast to play average people in a Dublin, Ireland, neighborhood: Each actor not only sings and dances, but plays an instrument onstage.

That’s a challenge, said director Eric Shephard, but when the chance to present the Tony Awards’ Best Musical of 2011, derived from the 2007 film, and with a Grammy Award-winning musical score, it was a challenge accepted. “It’s important to us that we pick material that’s challenging to us,” he said. The appeal of the music also didn’t hurt, he added. “I’m more and more impressed with how good the music is,” he said.

The story follows Guy (Austin Ingalls), a guitar-playing Irish street musician with dreams of going to New York, but who is settling for work in a vacuum repair shop. Enter a piano-playing Czech immigrant Girl (Kat Phillips), who falls for his music and encourages him to follow it.

As a relationship forms between the two, friends and family — Reza (Hannah Rose Hunt), Eamon (Cameron Dinkens), Andrej (Jonah Hardt), Da (Randy Carpenter), Svec (Erin Shephard) — are pulled into the music and Girl’s idea of arranging a recording of Guy for his career takes all to a different place.

New York actress and Baylor University graduate Elizabeth A. Davis won a Tony nomination for her part as the fiddle-playing Reza and had planned to come to Waco in support of the Waco Civic Theatre production. However, theater life — specifically, a part in Classic Stage Company’s Off-Broadway production of Brecht’s “The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui” — changed those plans, Shephard noted.

To get audiences in a music-friendly state of mind, the WCT production will feature a short, free-wheeling musical jam session a half-hour before curtain time.

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MCC American Hero

Dutiful sandwich shop worker Ted (Colten Haliburton) tries to divine the wishes of a customer (Jaden Fox) in McLennan Theatre’s “American Hero.”

For McLennan Theatre’s “American Hero,” written by Bess Wohl, the story follows three workers at a franchise sandwich shop: Sheri (Avery Carlisle), a teen living out of her car and juggling several jobs to help pay for her father’s medications; Jamie (Kyndal Rinewalt), a single mom trying to keep custody of her three kids; and Ted (Colten Haliburton), an MBA holder downsized by his bank, but possibly because of his personal life.

The three form an uneasy team that find themselves left to fend for themselves when management unexpectedly disappears and things at the shop start to go haywire. “It’s sort of a sitcom-y type play, but it goes a little sideways,” said Kelly Parker, who co-directs the play with Cori Cook Burkett.

Wohl’s play, presented without an intermission, is laced with humor, but also satire on life viewed from the bottom rungs of the corporate ladder. With a student cast, many of whom are juggling school and jobs, “American Hero” cuts close to home, Parker said. “This is their life,” he said.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor