THE HUNTINGTON opened its fall season with the musical “SING STREET” based on the 2016 movie by writer/director John Carney. It’s a coming of age story set in 1980’s Dublin about a teenage boy who falls for a beautiful mysterious girl who calls herself a “model.” So he claims to have a band and then has to start one to win her heart. Yes, we’ve heard it all before. The success of this material lies in the casting and execution. The film has real heart, derived from real locations, upbeat musical numbers, and a sensitive performance by a younger lead actor.
The staged version– which was originally headed to Broadway in 2020 before Covid caused a detour– suffers by comparison, its cliched story set on a minimal stage which doesn’t ground us in the world of these characters and their longing for freedom from a provincial life beyond a dysfunctional family and angry Catholic priests. The lead Adam Bregman as Conor isn’t young or vulnerable enough for us to be surprised by his transformation onstage from wimp to hot lead singer of a pop band. He already looks too much like Timothee Chalamet.
Conor’s distress at the hands of Barry the Bully (an excellent Jack Di Falco) would have also benefitted if Conor were somehow more innocent. Life at the Synge Street Christian Brothers School is made even more miserable by the brutish Brother Baxter (Armand Schultz) a demonically angry chainsmoker with a shoe fetish. It’s a one note-performance hinging on the giant chip on his shoulder the size of Galway Bay. Even so, the last scene where he gets his comeuppance is unsatisfying and awkwardly staged.
As for the rest of the cast, Conor’s love interest Raphina is blandly played by Courtnee Carter who sings off key in a nasal soprano and keeps losing her Irish accent. The book by Enda Walsh glances over an assortment of ills that feel perfunctory: all is not right between Conor’s squabbling parents (Dee Roscioli and Billy Carter); Conor’s sister Anne (Alexa Xioufaridou Moster) is vaguely sarcastic; I never understood exactly what was wrong with Conor’s older brother Brendan (well-played by Donal Finn) though he does a hell of a dance (Sonya Tayeh, choreographer) with a sofa, and gives an impassioned but oblique monologue about what’s bugging him in Act II.
The best part? Director Rebecca Taichman’s exhilarating handling of original musical numbers with new wave classics by Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and AHA sprinkled in. The cast performs the music live onstage with energy to spare, which almost but not quite compensated for so-so lyrics (John Carney) and tunes. I did not leave singing, but you might–others have –resulting in SING STREET being extended at THE HUNTINGTON’s Calderwood Pavilion through October 9!