Game of Thrones alum Brenock O’Connor shines in new musical TheWrap

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John Carney clinched gold with “Once”, the not-quite-love story of an Irish troubadour and a Czech immigrant in Dublin who wowed audiences both in an Oscar-winning independent film in 2007, and then in a theatrical adaptation that won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Musical.

And now his underrated indie gem of 2016 “Sing Street,” the tale of his own experiences with his teenage new-wave band in 1980s Ireland, gets his own stage adaptation at Off Broadway’s New York Theater Workshop, where he opened Monday night the same stage where “Once” premiered eight years ago.

Like Carney’s previous adaptation, the show features a book by playwright Enda Walsh, barebones set designed by Bob Crowley, and a talented cast who play their own instruments on stage.

While director Rebecca Taichman’s production offers moments of transcendence, especially in the often-bright second act, the show needs an extra polish on its hero’s brown shoes.

Taichman and Walsh effectively expressed economic desperation in 1980s Ireland, as citizens fled overseas for employment opportunities and those who remained struggled. Our almost 16-year-old hero Conor is taken out of school because his quarrelsome and divorcing parents (Billy Carter and Amy Warren) can no longer afford school fees and he is sent to a free school. led by a tyrant of a Catholic brother who is not above a small corporal punishment to enforce his rules. This includes forcing students to wear black shoes – even though, like Conor, they can’t afford them.

Once there, Conor decides to form his own “futuristic” rock band – partly out of a musical passion shared with (and first raised from) his older brother, Brendan (Gus Halper), an agoraphobe. in her twenties who has not left home for several years, and partly to impress Raphina (Zara Devlin), too cool for school, whose aplomb of a model masks her education in a broken home and her willingness to hang out with much older guys.

The main problem is that Walsh and Taichman don’t do enough to adapt the film’s complicated plot to a new medium, or to find theatrical ways to bring some of the various events to life. (A big screen towering over the backstage would have been a great place to show off the teen group’s hilarious efforts to shoot MTV-ready music videos, for example.)

The group itself has more members in the film – but few of them seem to have names, let alone stories. Johnny Newcomb’s class bully, already a teen movie snapshot even before he surprises Conor with a kiss to suggest hidden homosexuality, could be given up altogether. And why bother giving his teammate Eamon (Sam Poon) a pet bunny on stage if the poor boy only has one more scene with Conor (and the bunny becomes MIA too)?

Streamlining the story would give the material some leeway and an opportunity for key performers to shine. Brenock O’Connor, a 19-year-old “Game of Thrones” alumnus whose Olly stabbed Jon Snow in the heart in Season 5, gives an appealing performance as Conor – whose ability to feign confidence is as striking as his dimpled chin and unruly mop of brown hair. (Although Conor is the center of the story, the show opens with Brendan – for reasons that are never explained.)

Conor is a classic rebel, defying the restrictions imposed by the rules of Brother Baxter (Martin Moran), his warring parents, and the appalling economic conditions of his native country (not to mention gender norms for the time). And he remains a bit of a figure even if he finds his marks, both personally and creatively.

The tunes, written by Carney and Gary Clark, are a mix of ‘Once’ style ballads and catchy Nouvelle Vague pastiche (with period classics like ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ by Depeche Mode and ‘Rio Added for good measure). And while the musicality on stage is often perfect, the sound mix sometimes wavers so that the lyrics blur. (Since this is a fledgling amateur group, maybe the lo-fi effect is intentional?)

Devlin’s Raphina has the look and demeanor of a teenage femme fatale, but it’s hard to live up to the film version played by rising star Lucy Boynton (of “Rocketman” and “The Politician”) to fascinating perfection. And unfortunately, her voice is just a little too pale for Raphina’s big numbers. (In fairness, Boynton was just to be sung To.)

Still, there’s a lot to admire about “Sing Street” – and a little polish could turn Conor’s dismal brown shoes into kinky Broadway-ready boots.


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