Along with the warmth of nostalgia, there is something sad and unnameable about watching home movies from the past. Perhaps it's the slipping away of time or the inability to recapture the feeling of the moment in question. At the start of The Huntington’s production of the musical "Sing Street," two children play together in an old home movie projected on a beautiful 3D model of a home. Soon, the house physically gets cracked open, a foreshadowing of things to come.
Bursting with the buoyancy of youth and balanced with life's inevitable bouts of melancholy, "Sing Street" centers on the romantic love budding between teenagers Conor Lawlor and Raphina, the making of a band, friendship, the joy of music and the necessity of dreams. Showing now through Oct. 9 at the Calderwood Pavilion, the play follows Conor as he leaves a private school and starts at a free, state school called Synge Street in Dublin, Ireland in 1982. The story is based on the 2016 film of the same name, written and directed by John Carney. The book is by Enda Walsh.
Conor (Adam Bregman) has a tough time at Synge Street. The principal, Brother Baxter, is an exacting tyrant, and a boom-box-carrying bully, Barry—portrayed by Armand Schultz and Jack DiFalco, respectively—strikes fear in the hearts of the less brawny. At home, Conor and his older siblings Brendan (Dónal Finn) and Anne (Alexa Xioufaridou Moster) endure the family's dire financial situation and witness the sometimes explosive, sometimes quiet unraveling of their parent's relationship. But the reverence for and pursuit of music helps the teens cope.
The songs for the show, also penned by Carney and Gary Clark, delve into the buzzing hope of new love in its ballads and the raw ebullience stoked by it gets underlined in the up-tempo cuts from the lovely "Dream for You" to "Riddle of the Model." Lighting by Natasha Katz helps the band's performances—in which the actors play the instruments onstage—at home and in the school’s hallways feel like concerts and the members themselves like rock stars.
Excellent care is taken to reproduce the proper ‘80s sensibility with heavily lined and mascaraed eyes, ankle boots and the tunes of Duran Duran, The Cure and more. Music videos (a new thing in that era), floating images of geometric shapes that typically graced the oversized shirts of the time, and scene-setting photos are projected on a large screen by video designers Luke Halls and Brad Peterson with sound by Peter Hylenski. These projections help illustrate a sense of time and place and augment the band’s musical numbers. At one point, footage of the gorgeous, golden-voiced Raphina (Courtnee Carter) appears in the background as Bregman’s Conor, enchanted by the mysterious girl, performs a love song. Conor is instantly smitten with Carter's Raphina when he meets her by a grass-green, graffiti-covered telephone booth. Conor aspires to impress her by starting a band and making her the resident star of their videos at his brother's suggestion.
Costume designers Lisa Zinni and Bob Crowley (who doubles as set designer) expertly capture the ‘80s aesthetic too. Raphina's teal, suede-fringed jacket and sequined top and the band’s looks—complete with blouses, gauze, angel wings and more—are reminiscent of Prince and the Revolution at some points, and the Village People at others. They’ve landed on the perfect put-everything-on-at-once chaos that made this time period unique.
In addition to a top-notch cast that kept the crowd audibly rooting for them, the intelligent direction of the Tony and Obie-award-winning Rebecca Taichman ("Indecent" and "Mauritius") coupled with Sonya Tayeh's choreography offers a smooth, delightful ride through the Lawlor family's lives. Even the swift, graceful change of a few props, which moves the action from living rooms to the school, street to the ocean, feels rhythmic. And a thoughtfully executed dance where Moster's Anne tries to rouse Finn's Brendan from what seems like a weed-induced stupor helps the moment seem more elegant than painful.
There's a lot of good happening in "Sing Street,” and the only thing this audience member wanted was music with catchier choruses. Something one can walk away singing. Either way, in the show, friendships form, confidence is cultivated, and love develops. The lyrics and music the teens create together bond them and inspire others to dream, despite the suffering that persists. Carter's Raphina, whose vocals soar on her second solo, has survived trauma, Finn's Brendan has lost his way, and there's a dash of toxic masculinity to grapple with. But "Sing Street," with its crackling possibility and revelry, pushes its characters and audiences to sing and dance through it all.
The Huntington Theatre Company's "Sing Street" runs through Oct. 9.