It’s only 9:30 a.m., but Jen Kossin and Tommi May, two budding actresses, have almost accomplished their most important mission of the day.
The young women from Brooklyn have been sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre since around dawn, hoping to get rush tickets for the hit Broadway musical Once. Kossin, 20, and May, 23, woke up at 4 a.m. to begin their trek to the box office. They arrived at 6 a.m., but there was no one in line, so they slipped away for a quick breakfast.
“We couldn’t go without food!” May said.
Once, based on the 2006 movie of the same name, is the love story of an Irishman and a Czech woman who discover they share a passion for making music. Earlier this year the show won eight Tony Awards®, including one for best musical.
Robert Cole, the show’s executive producer, says he has seen the show more than 100 times. “I often poke my head in to say hi or pass a message along to someone in the cast, and then I decide to stand in the back and watch the opening number before heading out. And I end up staying every time.”
On this particular September morning at 9:55, five minutes before the box office opens, Kossin and May have been joined by about three dozen fans outside the Jacobs. Victoria Brownlow of Portland, Ore., is first in line. While she had seen Once during its prior run at off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop and even seen Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (the stars of the film and composers of the stage score) in concert, this would be her first time seeing it on Broadway.
“I love the story,” Brownlow said. “It’s simple. It’s about people trying to be happy, and how close they come.”
Parked on the sidewalk right behind Brownlow are Katy Bassett, 25, and Daniel Asay, 26, who also hail from Oregon. Once will be Asay’s first Broadway show; Bassett saw the musical one time last May, when it took her four days to get tickets.
“On the first day, I came at 9; second day, 8. I kept moving the time up,” she said. “The earliest people had gotten there was 5:30 a.m.”
How early one camps out at the box office isn’t the only measure of fandom, though – at least not for three students from London who have just joined the line.
“I didn’t fancy getting here at 6,” Rebecca Smith said, smiling.
Still, one of Smith’s travel companions, Jenny Friend, helped convince her that Once was worth seeing. “This show is different,” Friend said. “It’s understated. In most other shows there are a lot of jazz hands.”
Two people a little farther ahead in line are quite familiar with jazz hands and other Broadway tropes: Stephanie Barnum, 27, and Justin Brown, 26, have just returned to New York from performing in national touring productions of Mamma Mia! and Les Misérables, respectively.
The actors have been friends since they were kids. They grew up together in the San Francisco Bay area, playing each other’s love interests in shows like Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof and Guys and Dolls.
Neither Barnum nor Brown has seen Once. They tried to get tickets through a lottery for actors but didn’t have any luck. They’ve both come to be inspired by the talent of the cast.
“Even when you know people in the show, they don’t give away tickets,” Brown said.
Cole, the executive producer, knows something about giving away tickets: His office handles the requests for “house seats,” seats that are set aside for people involved with the show. “We keep seeing the names popping up,” he says. “You’ve got mothers and daughters going back again and again and again.”
By Samantha Lowery