Review: ‘Sing Street’ at New York Theater Workshop

By Jonathan Spira on 20 January 2020
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Sometimes it’s just a question of the right color shoes.  In 1980s Dublin, 16-year-old Conor Lawlor is stuck with brown ones.

Conor, performed brilliantly by Brenock O’Connor who portrayed Olly in “Game of Thrones” and Jon in the Northern Irish sitcom “Derry Girls,” was forced to transfer to a new school as part of his family’s austerity plan in “Sing Street,” a stage adaptation of the 2016 film of the same name.

“We have a black shoe policy here, Mr. Lawlor,” the headmaster (Martin Moran) tells young Conor. “They’re brown.  They’re quite sensible,” Conor retorts.  “They’re not black,” Brother Baxter replies.

In the smashing new musical “Sing Street,” with a book by Enda Walsh and songs by Gary Clark and Carney, a disconnected voice from a TV documentary about the challenges of being young and Irish during the 1980s recession tells Conor’s family that “it feels like it’s not a country for young people.”

It’s not that much easier for those who are not young: Conor’s architect father (Billy Carter), who has no buildings to design thanks to “a tanking economy,” cannot afford to buy him black shoes.  Indeed, we soon see that the family is just barely getting by, as is Conor as he plays his first notes on a guitar.

Fortunately for Conor, there’s an entire company of guitar-strumming musicians (played by Jakeim Hart, Sam Poon, and Gian Perez) who can sing and dance with the best of them at the fringes of Bob Crowley’s minimalist set. The set, incidentally, is backed by a wall of water under dark skies representing the Irish Sea that beckons to those who might wish to make the move to a more prosperous land.  Moreover, there’s a mysterious girl, Raphina (Zara Devlin), whom Conor needs to impress so he takes advice from his agoraphobic older brother, Brendan (memorably played by Gus Harper), who is wise beyond his years even though he hasn’t left the apartment in ages.

The show presents great optimism for the future – despite the dreary present – thanks to an endearing ensemble of Irish lads who turn to music to escape economic and family issues, while embracing the New Wave music of the period.

The principle behind music as an escape is long-established: put the tone arm on the record or press play (an action that works as well with cassette tape players as iPods and iPhones) and one escapes into another world.  

In the case of the lads of the homophonic Synge Street School, named after playwright John Millington Synge, they simply need 30 seconds or so to go from making noise to playing as if they were pros.  If only Brother Baxter would allow them to enter the Inner-City Dublin School Band Concert.

How this plays out makes “Sing Street” eminently worth seeing and delightfully irresistible. 

THE DETAILS

Sing Street
Through January 26
New York Theater Workshop
79 E 4th Street
New York, N.Y.10003
Running time: 2 hours 30 min.
www.nytw.org

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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