“Sing Street” opens Aug. 26 at the Huntington
By R. J. Donovan
Special To Boston Irish
Enda Walsh knows a thing or two about creating a hit musical.
The multi award-winning Irish playwright and director previously spent time in Boston writing the stage adaptation of the musical “Once,” which went on to win a Tony Award as Best Musical. Now, he’s returning to Boston to work on the new musical, “Sing Street.” Based on the 2016 indie film of the same name, “Sing Street” will play the Huntington Theater’s Calderwood Pavilion from August 26 to October 2.
“Sing Street” is a coming-of-age tale set in 1982 Dublin. Unemployment has struck every home, and the masses are seeking bluer skies across the Irish Sea. Sixteen-year-old Conor and his schoolmates are awash in dysfunction. However, with the sensitive Conor leading the way, they find an escape from their worries by forming a band to impress a girl.
With an original score embracing the sounds of the ‘80s, “Sing Street” ultimately celebrates the joy of first love and the power of music. It’s also about family tensions, the badgering of an older brother, suffering a school bully, and the potency of music videos, which Conor and his mates dive into with a frenzy.
An initial production of “Sing Street” played to sold-out houses at New York Theatre Workshop in 2019. That production, with revisions realized during the workshop, was set to move uptown to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre in March of 2020. Sadly, its journey was short-circuited when the Covid lockdown struck.
During the resulting two-year hiatus, the creative team continued to explore and fine-tune its work. The Huntington production is “Sing Street’s” next step back to Broadway.
Music and lyrics are by John Carney (“Once”) and Gary Clark (‘80s band, Danny Wilson). Rebecca Taichman, (Tony Award, “Indecent”) will direct, with choreography by Sonya Tayeh (Tony Award, “Moulin Rouge!”).
Enda and I chatted recently about the show. Here’s an edited look at our conversation.
Q. You have a long friendship with John Carney. What brought you to “Sing Street.”
A. It’s my daughter’s favorite film . . . I think she was like 12 or something when I was driving around Iceland, of all places, with my wife and my daughter and her friend, and we were just singing all the songs. Around that time, [producer] Barbara Broccoli got in touch with me and said “Have you seen it?” . . . I grew up here in Dublin -- the other side of Dublin, the north side of Dublin, the rougher side of Dublin -- and the film referenced a time that I knew, economically, in terms of what was happening in the city, but also culturally at the time, what was happening to the country. And Barbara asked “Do you have any interest in doing it?” And I said I’d love to. I think it would be great for me to spend some time with my 13–14-year-old self.
Q. And what did that 13-year-old connect with?
A: There were a lot of things that I remembered from that time . . .Walking down by the bay. The first girl I went out with. Walking back from her house . . . The evenings feel really long, you’re outdoors, chatting to people, and I thought, oh I know what that’s like. Then the idea of what it is to be around a group of boys at that time and the posturing and the peacocking that goes on.
Q. But there were also financial difficulties.
A. The 80s in Ireland were really, really tough. Every decade has had its problems. Every few years we were hit by recession. That time was particularly sad . . . The generation in front of me, even those people even a few years in front of me, they did their last exam at school, then they were in the boat immediately, getting out of Ireland. In my area -- I came from a mid-class area but I went to a working-class area school -- there was 40 percent unemployment. It was brutal. The idea of kids getting together to express something outside of themselves, but something of themselves as well, is more the story that I’m interested in.
Q. What are you hoping audiences take away from the show?
A. There’s something about the joy of this and the crazy expression of these kids trying to be new romantic stars in 1982 Dublin . . .The awkwardness of falling in love and trying to articulate where you are at that time -- to yourself and to the person you’re falling in love with. I really hope it ultimately feels joyful. That’s the big thing . . . You’re watching kids making something out of nothing. The celebration of these creative spirits.
Q. Is there a moment in the musical that touches you personally?
A: There’s a lot of the story that does resonate with me. The role of the older brother is a large role in this piece. And i find it really touching that this brother [Brendan] is looking at a younger brother [Conor], and realizing that actually, it’s Conor, the younger brother, and his energy that’s fulfilling dreams he had himself. For some reason, he cannot unlock himself . . . The fact that he’s afraid to leave the house -- he can’t leave the house -- and he doesn’t understand why. I find that moving. There’s a piece of choreography that [Rebecca and Sonya] unlocked directly after the New York workshop, and it’s poetic and heartbreaking.
Q. As with “Once,” Boston is your final preparation for New York?
A. We’re going to get this right. We’re going to Broadway with it . . . What happened directly afterward the workshop was we went back into the (rehearsal] room for about three and a half weeks . We reframed it . . . and then the pandemic happened . . . So I’m tremendously excited to see it in Boston, on that great stage at the Huntington. I think we’ve cracked it. Big time. It’s exciting.
“Sing Street,” Huntington Theatre, Aug. 26 to Oct. 2. Visit: huntingtontheatre.org