The off-Broadway musical adaptation of Sing Street at the New York Workshop Theatre carries on the starry and head-banging spirit of John Carney’s 2016 indie hit. The stage script is adapted and expanded by Enda Walsh, who also penned the Tony-winning stage musical treatment for Carney’s Once

It’s 1982 in Dublin, Ireland and the family of 16-year-old Connor (a stellar Brenock O’Connor) is among those caught in the waves of economic despair. To conserve their savings, his parents (Amy Warren and Billy Carter) pluck Connor from a fee-required private school and place him into a free Catholic school on Synge Street where he is singled out by a bully (Johnny Newcomb) and the austere headmaster, Brother Baxter (Martin Moran). Later, he spies 18-year-old Raphina (Zara Devlin), an aspiring model, posing coolly against the wall with her flashing sunglasses. On the fly, he forms a band so that she may model in his music video and she happily tags along. Raphina is the catalyst to find his song, but his band isn’t so much about winning the girl as it is finding an outlet for malaise.

With music and lyrics by Carney and Gary Clark, Sing Street maintains the film’s songs like the ear-worm “Riddle of the Model” and “A Beautiful Sea” and adding a few, some of them cut songs from the film. Like any other 2+ hours film-to-stage adaptations that stretch beyond the film’s running time and having the spatial advantages, Sing Street fleshes out the supporting characters, giving them space to sing their woes. At times it rotates from Connor’s headspace to others, his parents included, revealing that he isn’t alone in his suffering and everyone is imprisoned by their own shells. Raphina gets the first honor of drifting away from Conor’s headspace, and Delvin with her glistening eyes shines above the cast and her enigmatic simplicity pours out a world in her solo “Look Now.” Even the antagonistic Brother Baxter, with Moran lashing out austerity as much as he is insinuating humanity, suggests contrition he cannot admit, a man who tells himself he has found solace in the oppressing shell society had forged for him and is convinced everyone should share his shell. 

Conor’s allies include his older brother, Brendan (a larger-than-life Gus Halpert), who harangues him about music and feedback. Conor’s sister Anne (Skyler Volpe) gains a more of a prominent voice and she asserts her own fate—which goes unresolved in the movie when she vanishes—and she has her musical catharsis when she detonates into a head-banging fit when she’s in the storm of her parents’ quarrels. A supportive adult figure (Anne L. Nathan) offers encouragement to the boys and a safe space for the bullying Barry to grow and hone his skills—which is a sporadic plot point that needed development—and she delivers a smack-down that dangles an epiphany before Brother Baxter that he refuses to receive.

For all the delicate unraveling of the characters mentioned above, it is a letdown that it neglects to substantially revel in the individuality of each of Connor’s bandmates as they mature their craft, as if most of them serve no purpose other than to provide the music for Conor. Darren (Max William Bartos) is seen experimenting with their scrappy resources, scrambling-and-scurrying to film a number with working understanding of the medium, misaiming the camera, and resourcefully hair-spraying smoke to stimulate an atmospheric fog, and he gets to divulge his own dreams to Conor. The furthest we know about Eamon (Sam Poon) is that he loves his bunny—yes, he clutches a d’aaaaaaw-cute real bunny—and fears his rough father. But insight into the other bandmates is lacking. Their blossoming into a colorful gender-androgynous collective is a delight, all while I wished the bandmates were just more than extension of its leading character.

Not unlike the movie, Sing Street repudiates the restrictive and toxic manhood demanded by the likes of Conor’s father and Brother Baxter and champions its gender-fluidity. In the movie, when the boys assemble for their first music video, Raphina insists on doing make-up for everyone, which Connor obliges to while the other boys cry out, “I’m not doing make-up.” Contrast this to the boys’ stage counterparts who are receptive to make-up from the get-go. One bandmate visibly blossoms in femininity and flamboyance, wearing pink ribbons from his hair then later Xmas-tree earrings. Connor himself begins with dark and grey hues and ends his transformation with a pink denim jacket. 

Under Rebecca Taichman’s otherwise conservative, but delicate, direction, the musical action assumes a dreamlike aura as it drifts away from the diegetic to the non-diegetic. Bob Crowley’s design relies on sparsity surrounded by weathered red bricks with the backdrop of the Irish sea. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting plants some fireflies-like stars on the stage when the couple goes stargazing. 

The plotting toward a climax does struggle to find footing as Sing Street weaves in a conventional progression by replacing the prom gig in the movie into a contest try-out for the band to work for. Alas, then the contest also dissolves into irrelevancy in favor of the band having a rebellious comeback, before Brendan strums up the emotional release of “Go Now,” when he is left behind and pushing through.

Sing Street is in want of polish. It’s hard to say how this production might evolve beyond an off-Broadway run like Once, which Broadway World consensus points to as a more memorable piece. It’s a curious missed opportunity that the creative team does not show the band’s video recordings, especially when it promises to toy with mediums.

Fans of the movie might consider themselves pleased and newcomers to Carney’s tale will find little charms. Even through its roughest patches, Sing Street is feel-good, balancing rocky realism, aches, and its fairytale conclusion. Does Sing Street punctuate enough into an exceptional drama? No, but its restraint and care not to overreach is a charm. Sing Street the stage adaptation is just an earnest humble musical, one of those productions that leaves an indescribable simmering sparkle. 

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Sing Street will run through January 26, 2020. For more information about this production, visit https://www.nytw.org/show/sing-street/

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