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How ‘Once Upon a One More Time’ got Britney Spears’ stamp of approval

Star Justin Guarini talks about the pop icon’s involvement with the new jukebox musical and playing Prince Charming.

Justin Guarini and the company of “Once Upon a One More Time” (Credit: Matthew Murphy)

Justin Guarini burst into the public consciousness as first-ever runner-up of reality voice competition “American Idol.” Since then, Guarini hasn’t taken the traditional path of a pop vocalist. He’s starred in movies, recorded albums and served as the face of Dr. Pepper. Still, musical theater has remained a passion and professional outlet; Guarini made his Broadway debut in the original musical “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” in 2010.  

In the upcoming episode of “The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal,” Paul Wontorek chats with Guarini about his latest role in “Once Upon a One More Time,” the new jukebox musical featuring a score of songs made famous by Britney Spears.

It turns out, Guarini first met Spears during a press junket for his 2003 film “From Justin to Kelly,” in which he starred alongside fellow “American Idol” alum and Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson. Guarini described Spears as a “sweet, kind, lovely demure person.” He recalled, “We just hung out and talked. She couldn’t have been kinder and nicer.”

Despite his growing celebrity status, he was starstruck at the time. “I’m standing here with Britney Spears, and even though I had been on TV and done all that stuff, it was a surreal moment to me,” Guarini said. The two continued to run into each other periodically, but came together at the initial workshop for “Once Upon a One More Time.”

“By her direction, it has nothing to do with her life,” Guarini said. “She said, ‘Hey, I want this story to be about fairies and butterflies and not my life, and something beautiful using my music’ — and then she got to see that manifest.”

“Once Upon a One More Time” follows a group of fairytale princesses, spurred by  Cinderella to begin a journey of self-realization and empowerment when she receives a copy of “The Feminine Mystique.” Guarini plays Cinderella’s Prince Charming, who would rather stick to the status quo of happily ever after.

Spears’ feedback on the show helped solidify Guarini and the rest of the company’s confidence in its development. “She came and she saw it, she loved it, she approved it, and that was what helped us move forward,” said Guarini. “I think we really put together something gorgeous that she loved and she was excited [about]. She was like a little kid in a candy store.”

Encapsulating the pioneering nature of Spears’ legacy has been a key factor in bringing the show to life for Guarini and the rest of the cast and crew. “She has blazed so many trails in her life and in her career, and to see a musical that has the opportunity to do that as well — leveraging her journey and a lot of her sacrifice — is pretty beautiful,” Guarini said.

The show has also stretched Guarini as a performer. Having studied musical theater in college, the actor has starred on Broadway in “Women on the Verge,” “American Idiot,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “Wicked” and the first-ever a cappella musical on the Main Stem with “In Transit.” But “Once Upon a One More Time” has required new skills.

After watching the intricate choreography from the show’s ensemble, set by director-choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid, Guarini wanted to challenge himself by performing the same dance sequences. “I think this is by far the most dancing I’ve ever done — like not even on the ‘American Idol’ tour,” said Guarini. “It is awesome, and I feel so good doing it.”

Overall, working across art forms and stepping into different types of roles is a source of pride for Guarini. “It’s a blessing,” Guarini said of this variety. “I can show up and do what I do, and it surprises people — which is awesome.”

Also in this upcoming episode of “The Broadway Show,” audiences hear from “Kimberly Akimbo” stars: Tony Award winner Victoria Clark and Tony nominee Justin Cooley. Viewers will also get to know longtime Broadway stage doorman Jimmy Russell. The episode will feature an inside look at a special gala performance of “Back to the Future,” which welcomed Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd and featured stars Casey Likes, Roger Bart and more.

Justin Guarini in “Once Upon a One More Time” on Broadway (Credit: Matthew Murphy)