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After a hit run at New York Theatre Workshop in fall 2019, the production is transferring to Broadway's Lyceum Theatre for an open run.
How the Tony-winning director was instrumental in bringing this cult movie musical to the stage
Rebecca Taichman isn't just the director of Sing Street at New York Theatre Workshop, she's its instigator. After watching John Carney's undersung 2016 movie musical of the same name on Netflix, she knew immediately that she wanted to turn it into a piece of theatre. "I was ripped open by it," she says of the film, which centers on a 16-year-old aspiring rocker struggling with life and love in economically depressed early '80s Dublin. "By the end, I could just envision it on stage, and I wanted to see if I could find a way to make that happen."
What came next is well-documented: Taichman connected with producer Barbara Broccoli, who owned the rights, then Carney, who directed and wrote the film. Soon they were building their creative team, which includes Tony winner Enda Walsh as book writer, and '80s rocker Gary Clark, who cowrote the original songs with Carney.
Comparisons to the Tony-winning musical Once have been inevitable, since that show was also based on a Carney film, featured a book by Walsh and premiered at New York Theatre Workshop. But those familiar with Taichman's storied career may be reminded of a different show, Indecent, which she helmed. While Indecent was written by Paula Vogel, it was inspired by Taichman's Yale School of Drama thesis play The People vs. The God of Vengeance, so like the stage version of Sing Street, it wouldn't exist without her. After a lauded Off-Broadway run at the Vineyard Theatre, Indecent transferred to Broadway, where Taichman won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play.
At interview time, it was unclear whether Sing Street was destined to have the same trajectory as Once and Indecent. Taichman was appropriately cautious: "Time will tell—we have special producers figuring out what its future life might be." They figured that out in January, when Sing Street announced it would transfer to Broadway in March. But both Off-Broadway and on, Taichman is focused on giving audiences the kind of "profoundly affecting experience" she had while watching the original movie.
The coming-of-age journey of Conor (portrayed by 19-year-old Brenock O'Connor) includes unhappily married and underemployed parents (Amy Warren and Billy Carter), an agoraphobic older brother (Gus Halper), a cruel priest (Martin Moran) and a dream girl (Zara Devlin). But despite all that drama, music is what powers the show. Sing Street is an unusual hybrid of jukebox and original musical, as it contains preexisting songs by Depeche Mode, Heaven 17 and Duran Duran (all played live by the cast of fresh-faced actor-musicians), as well as new '80s-style tunes for Conor and his bandmates. It's an intriguing mix that inspires nostalgia, especially for Gen Xers like Taichman, but also offers the thrill of discovery.
Even those who know the movie well will be surprised by the score, since many of the old numbers have been changed. For example, in the film, Conor is introduced with Motörhead's "Stay Clean" blaring in the background. In the show, he's listening to Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" on his Walkman, which he rewinds and replays repeatedly.
Taichman says that idea came from music supervisor/orchestrator Martin Lowe. "We were looking for how to start the piece, what was the right first entry point, and we all thought it should be musical," says Taichman. "But the band doesn't yet exist. How do you set up the idea that this is a kid who's trying to learn to write music? Martin said when he was about Conor's age, he would sit with his Walkman and listen to something, then rewind it, listen, then rewind, to try to figure out how to play it. So it's very, very authentic to him and came completely from his intuition."
Taichman says the show follows "two parallel love stories:" between Conor and his crush Raphina, and Conor and his brother Gus, who, despite crippling depression and fear manages to guide his younger sibling out of their seemingly dead-end existence. But there's a third love story, too, between fans and the music they idolize.
"The show's written and created by true music lovers," says Taichman."It's a story about the power of making art, and how it can help you survive incredibly difficult circumstances."
Raven Snook is the Editor of TDF Stages. Follow her at @RavenSnook. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Brenock O'Connor and Jakeim Hart in Sing Street. Photos by Matthew Murphy.
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