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Sing Street

How Sing Street Champions Young Voices for the Stage

Boy meets girl, boy forms rock group to impress girl, boy and girl embark on journeys of self-discovery, accompanied by friends and bandmates and exuberant song and dance. Welcome to Sing Street, the joyous new musical adapted from the 2016 cult screen classic of the same title, now transferring to Broadway after a hugely successful run downtown at New York’s Theatre Workshop.

Set in 1980s Dublin, the show focuses on 16-year-old Conor, played by 19-year-old Game of Thrones alumnus Brenock O’Connor, and his relationships with his buddies and with local girl and aspiring model Raphina. Raphina is portrayed by 24-year-old Northern Ireland native Zara Devlin, whose credits include productions at such prestigious theater companies as the Abbey, the Druid, and the Gate. She also sings, dances, and plays instruments in the musical, as do O’Connor and all the young performers playing members of the titular band.

Sing Street is set to open April 19, after starting previews March 26. The transfer to Broadway shouldn’t come as a total shock, given the musical’s commercial and critical success at NYTW, not to mention its creative pedigree. The original film’s screenwriter and director, John Carney, recruited Irish playwright Enda Walsh to write the libretto; the two previously collaborated on another musical set in Dublin — the Tony Award–winning smash adaptation of Carney’s earlier movie Once, which landed on Broadway after premiering at the same Downtown theater.

Walsh describes Sing Streets Downtown run as “very much a workshop experience. There were people who saw it the first week and then came back and said, ‘You’re tuning it.’ We were trying to adapt to who the actors were as personalities — because they’re young, right? You don’t want them acting too far away from that.” His book will evolve further for Broadway: “It’s being so much more than tweaked. I think this incarnation will feel super-personalized.”

O’Connor notes, “I was speaking to Enda just the other day about the casting process, about what he had thought each character needed. And he said that they all need to be their own special freak — that they each need to be just a little bit weird for all of them to work together. And I think we’ve found that.”

“From my point of view, the piece involves several love stories — first love, the love of friends, the love of music,” says Walsh.

Sing Street director Rebecca Taichman, praised for her work with top playwrights on and Off-Broadway, has shared Walsh’s vision for a group of characters they’ve likened to inhabitants, she says, “of the Island of Misfit Toys. They’re kids who are not quote-unquote popular, who find community and family in themselves.” Taichman knew her performers, in addition to possessing a diverse skill set, “had to embody the tone of the piece,” down to looking young and speaking in the proper dialect. The Sing Street band consists of 25-year-old Jakeim Hart, 20-year-old Gian Perez, 19-year-old Brendan C. Callahan, 18-year-olds Anthony Genovesi and Sam Poon, and Max William Bartos, the baby of the bunch, having just turned 17 on February 12. In preparing the musical for Broadway, Taichman and her charges will be driven by “a tremendous desire to know these kids more intimately.”

Their exploration won’t just happen onstage: The camaraderie already forged by the Sing Street actors has led several to form their own band, called Kings of Positivity. They’ve also been recording and writing music individually: Poon laid down vocals in NYTW’s basement during a recent break, while Bartos says, “I never had the courage to write anything before, but now these guys have inspired me to do it.”

Perez, a current acting student at the University of Michigan — he’ll study remotely to graduate this year — says, “My whole life I thought that I would be a musician, but I’ve studied acting because I love it. So this is the perfect show for me, because I can be a musician, authentically, as well as an actor.”

O’Connor notes, “In some shows with actor-musicians, you’re playing (an instrument) but your character really isn’t. But here, whenever any of us is holding or playing an instrument, it’s because it’s the only way we can express what we want to say in the scene.”

Hart hopes that in acquiring a larger audience, Sing Street will reach more young fans “who are thinking about maybe doing something like this for their livelihoods.” Perez believes the musical’s themes will appeal to them as well, as they have to audiences Off-Broadway. “Each song has a driving force of, Do that thing you want to do. Audience members were saying things like, ‘Really be yourself,’ and ‘If you want to do something, go do it.’”

Sing Streets cast members, too, have taken that seize-the-day philosophy to heart. “I’ve had issues with self-confidence in the past,” says Devlin, “but this has really changed me. Going to Broadway now, I feel like anything in the world is possible.”

Bartos notes, “Two years ago, I was being bullied relentlessly at school, and I never thought I’d be something like this — working with an amazing group of people every day. When I see them, it’s like a line from a song in the show: They light me up. I’m looking forward to every minute of it.”

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