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Sing Street

Theatre Review by David Hurst - December 16, 2019

Jakeim Hart, Max William Bartos, Zara Devlin,
Sam Poon, Brenock O'Connor, Brendan C. Callahan
and Gian Perez

Photo by Matthew Murphy
Even if you missed the 2016 film version, you'll love New York Theatre Workshop's joyous, new stage-musical version of Sing Street. That is, you'll love it if you can get tickets, which are flying out of the box office at a brisk clip following the sold-out preview period for this world premiere production. Set in the economically depressed Dublin of 1982, Sing Street is the heartwarming story of rebellious 16-year-old Conor who forms a band with his schoolmates to catch the eye of a pretty girl. Overflowing with charm and heart, Sing Street is about the thrill of first love and the power of music.

With a crisp book by Tony winner Enda Walsh (Once), tuneful songs influenced by New Wave music of the early 1980s by Gary Clark and John Carney, Sing Street is cleanly (and swiftly) directed by Tony winner Rebecca Taichman (Indecent), with choreography by Sonya Tayeh. Following NYTW's success with Once, it's easy to understand why expectations have been high for Sing Street and, though it's not a masterpiece like Rent or Hamilton, it's a thoroughly heartwarming story of optimism and independence that will resonate with audiences.

The plot is straightforward: Conor (Brenock O'Connor) and his siblings Brendan (Gus Halper) and Anne (Skyler Volpe) find themselves dealing with the emotional fallout of their parents' marriage, as it dissolves under the stress of years of unhappiness, and Dublin's economic collapse. Their mother Penny (Amy Warren) and father Robert (Billy Carter) argue day and night, and the children have responded in different ways to the chaos. Anne throws herself into her architecture studies, while Brendan, who previously attempted to escape to London but returned defeated, has become a shut-in, refusing to leave the house. Conor has been told the family can no longer afford to send him to private school, and he is forced to transfer to a Christian Brothers school, an order of the Catholic Church, which is free.

In short order, Conor finds himself under the thumb of the tyrannical principal, Brother Baxter (Martin Moran), and intrigued by Raphina (Zara Devlin), a beautiful, older girl who seems to spend her days across the street from the school hanging out next to a pay phone. Conor befriends Darren (Max William Bartos) after a run-in with school bully Barry (Johnny Newcomb) in a bathroom. Barry clearly has some serious social and sexual identity issues, but Darren's presence keeps Conor out of trouble for the time being.

In order to pursue his fascination with Raphina, Conor decides to form a band so he can shoot a music video in which Raphina can star. Darren becomes the de facto producer and, one by one, other boys from school form a makeshift band of sorts: there's Gary (Brendan C. Callahan) and Larry (Jakeim Hart) on guitar, Kevin (Gian Perez) on keyboard, Kevin's older brother Declan (Anthony Genovesi) on drums, and Eamon (Sam Poon) on bass. They rehearse at Eamon's house where his no-nonsense mother Sandra (Anne L. Nathan) explains to the boys that they're going to have to listen to each other and work together if they want a band anyone will want to listen to. In short order, Conor's fascination with Raphina turns into love, as he searches for his place in the world while doing battle with Br. Baxter and his parents.

Not only is everyone in the cast a standout, they all appear to play multiple instruments and sing with verve and passion. Particularly outstanding are Brenock O'Connor in the pivotal role of Conor and Gus Halper as older brother Brendan. The two actors have a real connection and Halper's deadpan, jaded delivery is as palpable as the love and admiration he radiates to his brother. Also noteworthy are the four adult roles in Sing Street, especially the indispensable Anne L. Nathan, whose quiet, steely presence brings needed gravitas to a subplot with Sandra and the conflicted Barry, as well as the brilliant Martin Moran, whose menace is terrifying as the dangerously cruel Br. Baxter. Having seen Moran's shattering one-man show The Tricky Part several times, it's amazing to see him turn the tables by playing an abusive priest in a black cassock. But Br. Baxter gets his comeuppance in the end and Sing Street celebrates the power of music in all of us—the universal power to change hearts and minds.

Sing Street
Through January 26, 2020
New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street (Between 2nd Avenue and Bowery)
Tickets online and current performance schedule: