Doylestown’s Liam Fennecken Makes Academy of Music Debut

The Penn State graduate lands a leading role in the Broadway tour of Once .

The first thing Liam Fennecken is going to do once he gets to Philly is hit the flagship Wawa on Broad and Walnut. He hasn’t been yet, and he’s through trying to explain the store to his Once touring cast members.

“I’m so excited,” he said. “It’s such a Philly-specific thing that people just don’t understand.”

Fennecken, who grew up in Doylestown and went to Archbishop Wood High School, is making his Philadelphia professional theatrical debut this January in Once, the Irish-infused Broadway musical coming to the Academy of Music. He tackles the role of Svec, and has to do a lot more than just sing and act; he plays four instruments on stage. We caught up with the multitalented performer who received his theater training at Penn State.

You’re the second person I’ve talked to recently who came out of the theater program from Penn State and is touring as a lead with a Broadway show. I’m curious to hear about your experience at the college and how it prepared you.
I loved it. First of all, I wasn’t even looking to go into theater. I went into Penn State as an Animal Science major, which is still a passion of mine. I started going and seeing the shows and thought, “Why am I not doing that?” I really lucked out and decided that I wanted to do theater for my life. It’s such a wonderful program: All of the faculty and teachers have worked in the industry for years and are supportive and help get you connections outside of school.

You grew up in Doylestown, right? What’s it like to come back to perform?
I’m really excited because I’ve never done a professional show in Philly before, so this is it! I always did music. I did theater in high school, but it was always kind of a fun thing. I never thought of it as a career until I went to college. My parents are really excited. They bought out an entire block of rows at the Academy.

I know you have play a ton of instruments in the show. Were these musical skills you had before, or how did you pick them up?
The entire cast all plays instruments for the show. There’s no pit band and everyone is on the stage. I play the guitar, the drums, banjo, and mandolin. It is really cool to see. I saw Once on Broadway a few years ago and it’s incredible to watch people playing instruments and dancing and acting all at the same time. I’ve been playing guitar and drums since I was 12 or 13, but I’ve never played the mandolin or the banjo. It’s just another threaded instrument like guitar, so it’s basically memorizing a new set of chords. What’s funny is that every professional tour I’ve been on, I’ve had to play the guitar on stage. It was just a hobby for me because I wanted to start my own pop punk band, but now I use it for my theater career.

What about this show makes it so appealing? There’s such a strong following, and people went crazy for it when it first opened in New York back in 2012.
I think it’s how relatable the story is. The story is so human. When I first saw the show, I could relate to every single character up there. It’s not anything crazy or out of the ordinary. There’s nothing exploding or any kind of intense, crazy love triangles. It’s more subdued. It gets me every time. I get to the end of the show and I cry.

I also saw your Soundcloud and that you write your own music. How does your music writing impact your performance as an actor?
Something unique about this show is that you need to have actors who are musicians. A lot of the cast writes their own music or comes from a background performing in bands. I’ve always written music and I performed in my pop punk band back in high school. I also did a cappella in college. Now, I’ve settled into after-college life making my own music.

You can catch Liam in “Once” at the Academy of Music, January 15-17. For tickets and more information, click here.