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BWW Album Review: SING STREET Raises Its Rebel Voice


BWW Album Review: SING STREET Raises Its Rebel Voice

Broadway is looking much different these days than we thought it would a few months ago. One of the big differences is the trajectory of Sing Street, which was originally intended to make its Broadway transfer this spring and has now been pushed back to the fall at least. While we won't get to see the stage adaptation of the 2016 indie musical film for a while, we can get a preview of what's to come with the cast recording, out now. It's a rollicking ride, packed with youthful energy and eloquent emotion - it's the kind of album that makes you want to see the show as soon as you can.

The album opens not with an original song from writers Gary Clark and John Carney, but with a cover of Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough." It's a surprising but smart move that taps us right into the show's energy, an '80s-tinged vibe with driving energy and all the pent-up emotions of young people needing to express themselves. It's just on the right side of scrappy, with the same energy as singing along to the radio (albeit with much better vocals and more polished production values than most of us have when we're belting out our favorites in the car).

It's also our first introduction to Brenock O'Connor, the show's leading man, who takes lead vocals on the majority of the songs. He's got the kind of voice that switches, seemingly effortlessly, between the punk-y, indie-rock energy and the kind of gentle elegance that was the hallmark of Carney's previous movie-to-musical, Once. It's tough to have a single actor/character taking on a large percentage of the score, but O'Connor doesn't just manage it - he shines doing it.

If I had to place a bet on what will be the breakout song of the show, I'd lay my money on "Up," a beautiful, thoughtful song (again led by O'Connor) that seems to capture the show's wistful yearning and rebellion. "You've gotta read but you don't wanna reach the end / Cause what if everything beautiful's fiction / And this reality's just pretend," one memorable line goes. The song showcases one of the album's biggest strengths: its eloquent, beautifully worded lyrics that capture the era and genre of the story without verging into obvious homage or parody.

By the time we get to "A Beautiful Sea" - which lets us hear the lovely and utterly unique voice of Zara Devlin - it's clear that this isn't quite like your typical Broadway album. Where many cast recordings feature music that can largely tell the story without the interstitial dialogue, Sing Street is more of a cross between that storytelling sensibility and a straightforward indie album. The characters and emotions are there, but the story (that is, the plot) isn't quite as present in the music; there's no dialogue-as-music or any of the other obvious traits of typical stage musicals. At first, it's a bit of an adjustment, especially if you're used to cast recordings that have a more traditional, straightforward relationship to the plot of the show. After you get used to it, though, it's exquisitely easy to just sit back and enjoy the music - and when you're not paying attention, you'll find yourself understanding the characters and their feelings, even if the literal plot isn't obvious.

There's a fantastic, driving, punky energy to some of the songs in the middle of the album. "Girls" and "Drive It Like You Stole It" both feel like they'd be perfectly at home on a non-theater album, and I mean that in the best sense. They're just on the edge of rebellion, or what an artistic depiction of youthful rebellion feels and sounds like. Anyone who grew up listening to the music of the '80s and '90s will instantly recognize the feeling and the style of these songs. "Brown Shoes" is the best of these tracks, though. With lyrics like "who the hell is he to tell me who to be / Do you want me dancing? You can watch on MTV," it's another instance of the era-specific verbiage to express the universal frustrations and repressions of creative youth dying to break out of the boxes they were born into.

It's also worth mentioning that the album, as a whole, is structured in such a way as to keep the listener's attention and keep things from feeling like too much of the same; there's never too many up-tempos or too many ballads in a row, but instead a rise and fall that feels totally natural. And as much fun as the up-tempo songs are, it's the softer moments that make the score truly sing. To use another comparison with Once, "Dream for You" is the "Gold" of Sing Street: an acapella opening, stunningly lovely lyrics, albeit a little more ethereal, and a sound that will pull you in that the song ending feels almost like waking up from a dream. And "To Find You," the album's penultimate song, is the most openly emotional of all. It's impossible not to be moved by the gentle, heartfelt music and lyrics like, "bring the lightning bring the fire / Bring the fold, I know I'll get my heart through / Got miles to go but from the day I started crawling / I was on my way to find you."

The bittersweet and hopeful finale, "Go Now," puts another cast member in the spotlight: Gus Halper, as Brendan, the older brother to O'Connor's protagonist Conor. It's a bittersweet sort of song that's both an ending and a beginning, sad and uplifting all at once. Halper's voice finds all the interesting textures in the music, and when the ensemble joins in, the effect gives you chills. Sing Street might have the voice of a rebel, but it's got an honest and poignant heart, and Broadway will be all the better to have these songs on its streets - hopefully someday soon.

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