SING STREET: THE SINGING CONTINUES By Peter Filichia
For reasons that you well know, SING STREET didn’t open on Broadway on April 19.
At least there was a livestreamed-at-home concert on April 30 that raised over $300,000 in a single broadcast. So successful was it that it ran an extra four days.
This allowed thousands to see this musical that’s full of joy. If you missed it and doubt that it is, note that Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine and The Stage all included the word “joy” in their enthusiastic reviews.
Was the title already familiar to you? You might have remembered the 2016 film on which the musical is based. The National Board of Review named SING STREET as one of The Top Ten Independent Films of the year.
Although you can still see that movie on DVD, we don’t know when you’ll see SING STREET at the Lyceum. But there is a newly released original cast album that fills in some of the gaps.
It features a talented young cast headed by Brenock O’Connor as our young hero Conor. The way O’Connor delivers “Just Can’t Get Enough” may well speak for you, too; after one hearing, you may well press a repeat button and prove its point.
O’Connor was one of the nine performers out of fifteen who were about to make their Broadway debuts. All are so young that they weren’t even alive when the show takes place: 1982.
That was the year when Time magazine didn’t name a Man, Woman or Person of the Year; instead, it gave its annual honor to “Machine of the Year” – The Computer.
It’s starting to take away a number of jobs, and the Lawlor family of Dublin is among the suffering. Robert has been unemployed for some time. As for Robert’s wife, she’s merely working part-time (and having a part-time affair, too). Adult son Brendan’s agoraphobia doesn’t afford him many opportunities.
Then there’s sixteen-year-old Conor Lawlor. With only enough money to send one child to college, sister Anne will get that privilege. (That’s a nice non-misogynistic twist.) Conor’s now forced to attend a new – and less expensive – school.
Anyone who’s been thrust into this situation halfway through an academic year (and which of us in this peripatetic society has not?) will identify with Conor’s shyness and fear as he enters the big imposing building where two bullies await.
Classmate Barry is one, but worse is Brother Baxter, the school’s headmaster. He has no Brotherly Love to give the lad who’s wearing – horrors! – shoes that weren’t regulation black.
Conor’s fate might not be black because — to quote the subtitle of a big Haircut One Hundred hit – “Boy Meets Girl.” Conor experiences the rite of passage for adolescents: Love at First Sight when he sees the alluring Raphina. Starting a conversation with a beauty is difficult for most young men; Conor’s task is made more arduous after she tells him that she’s a model – although she isn’t. Even before you hear a song in the mode of Spandau Ballet’s “True,” you’ll wish Raphina could be truthful.
Like so many, Raphina feels that if she says she’s something special, she can convince herself as well as others that she is. But to quote a famous line – one so old that Confucius might have said it – “You are what your last paycheck says you are.”
Young lasses routinely fall for rock musicians, so Conor starts a band as a short-cut to Raphina’s heart. She even becomes the subject of the song that he and his newfound band sing: “The Riddle of the Model.” (This selection reminds us that the ‘80s was the time when digital synthesizers were coming into their own.)
To seal the romantic deal, Conor asks Raphina to star in the music video. Soon she feels empowered to make the band wear make-up and insist that Conor change his name to Cosmo. And just as we learned from the excellent Sweet Smell of Success musical – where the powerful J.J. Hunsecker gets sycophant Sidney Falcone to shorten his surname to Falco – a person must have an Alaskan-sized ego to feel he or she has the right to change a person’s lifelong name. That both J.J. and Raphina think nothing of it tells us a good deal about them. By the time the group comes up with its best song –“Drive It Like You Stole It” – Conor feels that something’s been stolen from him.
Those with a working knowledge of the 1980s pop music scene won’t need The Cure’s “Seventeen Seconds” to see how deftly Gary Clark and John Carney have homaged hits of that decade. Some of the joy that the reviewers experienced may have come from the Depeche Mode homage of “My Joy.” Whatever the case, Clark and Carney have added an Irish sensibility to the songs, so Old Éire meets New Wave: The Rock of this age is The Blarney Stone.
Early on in the musical, Brendan advises Conor not just to cover old hits. In that spirit, Clark and Carney have added four new songs to the eight they’ve retained from the film.
One, “Dream for You,” was indeed written for the film but didn’t make the cut. Now it’s back and is making the most of its second chance.
Brother Baxter doesn’t want to give the band a second chance, for when he sees the musicians made up like Kiss, his response is far from a kiss. Baxter’s one song – “Faith of Our Fathers” – is a mere seven lines long. No, there’s not much music in Brother Baxter. (And not much songwriting was needed from Clark and Carney; this has its roots in a hymn from 1849.)
We also see that Conor and Barry forge a relationship, which proves a point kids should learn and remember: today’s enemy could be tomorrow’s friend; it’s not a lifetime sentence. Even the stormiest relationship can change for the better.
(And what brings them together? Why, music, of course.)
Just because some songs are in the style of Duran Duran doesn’t mean that Conor and Raphina will have a Wedding Album. And getting to London? We fear that the only way they’ll be in the city is singing a song that resembles The Jam’s “In the City.”
Given that Conor’s parents have had a hard time stretching a euro, they’re not inclined to think that making music is a likely way to make money. But you know musical comedy: “And a happy ending, of course.” This show manages to provide one so enticing that it makes us lust for SING STREET TWO.
In the meantime, though, there’s SING STREET “ONE.”
Not knowing what you’ll see and hear when you attend a good musical can be a delightful experience, as you become increasingly surprised by a show’s worth as you sit in front of it. But what’s just as much fun – some will say even more fun – is experiencing a musical after you’ve listened to the cast album so many times that you know every note and word.
Thus your current stay-at-home status will give you ample time to learn the score and the fun, power and – yes – joy of Clark and Carney’s songs. But let’s hope not too much time passes between your memorizing SING STREET and your attending it at the Lyceum.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com. He can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com.