If you’re wondering how John Carney and Gary Clark collaborated to craft songs for Sing Street — the music-packed 2016 film that became an acclaimed Off-Broadway musical and arrives on Broadway this spring — allow Carney to explain: “All the bits of music that you’ll forget are my bits, and the bits that you’ll be humming as you leave the theatre are Gary’s,” says the film’s writer and director.
Informed of this analysis, Clark laughs. “That’s very John,” says the Scottish musician, songwriter, and producer, who rose to fame across the pond in the ’80’s pop band Danny Wilson. He has since worked with such noted artists as Demi Lovato and Natalie Imbruglia in addition to recording solo and with other groups. Clark is in New York to discuss his role in the stage adaptation of Sing Street, which is “getting more hands-on” now that the show is set to begin performances at the Lyceum Theatre March 26, with an opening scheduled for April 19.
Grounded and affable, Clark insists, “John is a great musician; he just puts himself down. He actually grew up in bands, and he’s played a long time.” As a teenager in 1980s Dublin, the setting for Sing Street, Carney listened to the popular artists of the day, among them Danny Wilson. Clark, though a decade older, found “so many parallels” to his own life in the briefs Carney sent him years back when he first pitched the film. Says Clark, “I went to Catholic school, and I was in a band, and I left to go to London,” as the musical’s 16-year-old protagonist, Conor, dreams of doing. (“I was 19 at the time,” Clark notes.)
Clark was also a big fan of Carney’s 2007 movie Once, also set in Dublin and featuring young musicians — and also adapted into a stage musical that found success downtown at New York Theatre Workshop before transferring to Broadway, where it earned eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The show featured a book by Enda Walsh, also enlisted for Sing Street, with orchestrations by Martin Lowe, who is orchestrating and arranging music for Sing Street as well.
In addition to original songs, eight of them cowritten by Carney and Clark, Sing Street weaves in excerpts from ’80s tunes, drawn from the era’s New Romantic movement (rooted in the late-’70s U.K.), which spawned early MTV favorites such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. Carney, on the phone from across the pond, quips, “I kind of live a little bit in the ’80s. I think my aesthetic froze around 1986 or ’87.”
As Clark recalls, the process of writing songs for the film was a bit of a whirlwind: “All of it had to be done very quickly, and the energy was unbelievable.” But Carney points out that they are “still honing” the Broadway iteration. “I don’t think it’s going to radically change, but we’re making sure that the songs really develop character. The music has to be hitched into the drama and the dialogue, so that if you take out a song, [it’s because] it doesn’t make sense. I would never put in a song simply for the sake of its being there.”
Clark adds, “We’ve learned so much from being able to see this thing on stage, in front of people, and one of the big things we’ve taken away is that sometimes it feels like there are two different kinds of songs: There are cast songs, and there are band songs. What we really want to do, when it’s a band song, is home in on who is this band and who’s playing what, because a lot of them are multi-instrumentalists. We want people to leave feeling like they know who this band really is.”
Clark and Lowe have already overseen a recording session with the band, mixed by Dave Bascombe, who has worked with Peter Gabriel and new wave icons such as Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode. The latter group’s keyboardist and music director, Peter Gordeno, will also be collaborating on Sing Street.
Clark muses, “When John brought me on board for Sing Street, I didn’t think I’d written for characters before. But then I realized that the time I’d spent working as a producer and writing for other artists, I’d kind of been doing that. In a roundabout way, I was telling their stories. In that sense, I found the transition easier than I’d thought it would be.” In fact, Clark has since been enlisted to compose music and cowrite lyrics for an upcoming musical adaptation of the 2005 movie Nanny McPhee, with a book by original star and screenwriter Emma Thompson. “I’m putting pop on the back burner for a while, because I’m so excited about this new area I’m getting into.”
For Carney, himself still a sophomore in musical theater, Sing Street’s journey from screen to stage “has been a labor of love and loyalty, from the whole team. Nowadays everything is being adapted into something else, but this has not in any way been a cynical exercise. This has been fun.”
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