Two decades after skyrocketing to fame on the first season of “American Idol” in 2002, coming in second to winner Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini is stepping into the spotlight again in a major career milestone. After years of starts and stops, the Broadway musical “Once Upon a One More Time,” featuring the music of pop icon Britney Spears, opened at the Marquis Theatre on June 22, 2023, with Guarini starring as Prince Charming.
Just before the official Broadway premiere, following a month of previews, the cast received the best review they could ask for in a social media post from Spears herself.
“Good luck to the hardworking cast and crew of ‘Once Upon a One More Time’ on opening night tonight 🌹💃🏼✨ !!! I’ve seen the show and it is so funny, smart and brilliant 🤩”
Guarini, who returned to “American Idol” as a guest mentor this spring, has said this career milestone has been six years in the making and that Spears was deeply involved in its creation, calling her a “lovely, lovely person.” Here’s what you need to know:
‘Once Upon a One More Time’ Has Taken Years to Premiere on Broadway
Since his days on “Idol,” Guarini’s career has included appearing in multiple Broadway shows including “In Transit,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “American Idiot” and “Wicked,” according to Deadline. He’s also played Lil’ Sweet, the quirky, miniature rock-n-roll spokesman for Diet Dr. Pepper, since 2015, per Entertainment Weekly.
But the role of Prince Charming in “Once Upon a One More Time” is especially sweet, given all the time and energy he’s put into the show. The production is billed as a “brand-new kind of fairy tale” featuring a group of storybook princesses, led by Cinderella — played by Briga Heelan — as they transform their lives with Spears’ biggest hits as the soundtrack of their self-empowerment journey.
Producers James Nederlander and Hunter Arnold told Variety that Spears was the one who had the original idea for the show years ago and it marks her first major project since the end of her conservatorship in 2021.
“It was actually Britney who approached us and said, ‘We’d like to have a show based on my music, and specifically not a bio-musical,'” Arnold said. “The original idea came from ideas brought forth by her: She loves fairytales, princesses, storybooks. We took a couple of passes at it — we didn’t get it right instantly. Then we did a workshop after we got the current-ish version together and she came to see it and give thoughts on it.”
The musical’s was first announced in 2019, with plans for it to premiere in Chicago with Guarini set to star, but it was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic, per Playbill. Eventually, the show moved its premiere to Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, D.C. for a month-long run that began on November 30, 2021. With the success of that run, the musical was cleared to prepare for its Broadway debut.
On May 15, on the first night of preview shows, which allowed the cast to master the Broadway production before opening night, Guarini posted on Instagram that the experience was “nothing short of divine.”
“It was an honor and a pleasure to spend every moment with my cast mates on stage as we finally delivered the first of many performances to come,” he wrote. “I’ve been with this project for 6 years…and it’s been worth every second of the wait to get here.”
Justin Guarini Says Show is a ‘Love Letter to Britney’
Following the Broadway show’s opening night, the New York Times raved about Guarani’s performance, saying he “banks on expansiveness as a prince generously sharing his charms with a bevy of women. He displays a gift for slapstick — watch the way he elastically climbs onto a platform two stairs at a time — and spares no effort, whether in solo songs or leading big numbers.”
Ahead of opening night, he told “Good Morning America” that it took a while for him to build up the stamina required to sing while performing such intense dance numbers, choreographed by Keone and Mari Madrid.
“There’s one point in the show where I do three numbers back-to-back and it’s not like I just get to stand there,” he said. “We do scene work in between all of that. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ We rehearsed it for four weeks and I could not sing it and dance it until about a week into the theater when we got in there.”
“But you just do it,” he continued. “And every time we come off the stage, me and the dancers are all like, ‘How did we do that?’ But we do it and it feels so good when you’re in the moment.”
The dad of three, who’s now 44, told Hello! magazine that Spears continues to be as kind as she was when they first met shortly after “American Idol” in 2002.
“She was the picture of sweetness, kindness, fun and light … just a lovely, lovely person,” he recalled of their first interaction.
“I’ve been with this show for about six years, and she came to a workshop,” he continued. “I remember her being out in the audience and laughing and having a great time.”
Guarini said Spears also has viewed rehearsals virtually and that the show’s producers “have kept her in the loop about everything that’s going on,” adding, “She is all over this show.”
The cast hopes that the pop icon will attend the show to see the finished product in-person, but they know outings like that are hard to navigate for Spears, given all the media attention on her and speculation about her mental health.
Guarini told Hello, “Our number one focus is going out every single night and delivering what is essentially a love letter to everything that Britney has given us over the 20 plus years.”