As soon as Rebecca Taichman saw the 2016 film “Sing Street,” she knew she wanted to direct it for the stage.
“It’s the story of a broken world, and the way music saves the lives of these young people,” says the director who won a Tony Award for “Indecent,” Paula Vogel’s stunning play-within-a-play. “ ‘Sing Street’ seemed perfect for the three-dimensional world of musical theater.”
The film, written, and directed by John Carney, with songs by Gary Clark and Carney (along with hits by Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and others), chronicles the coming-of-age story of a Dublin teenager, circa 1982, who puts together a band to impress a girl and escape the economic and family chaos that surrounds him.
“I’m a fool for a great story,” Taichman says during rehearsal break for “Sing Street,” presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion Friday through Oct. 2.
Taichman pursued the rights and discovered that producer Barbara Broccoli owned them. Broccoli was also one of the producers of the award-winning theatrical adaptation of the film “Once,” which was also written by Carney with music and lyrics by Carney and Clark. She recommended book writer Enda Walsh, who won a Tony for his work adapting “Once” to the stage.
“I went to London where Enda lives and we talked through what this story needed to be lived on the stage,” Taichman says. “We needed to translate it into theatrical vocabulary, while respecting how much of their hearts John Carney and Gary Clark put into the story and music. ”
The creative team, which also includes choreographer Sonya Tayeh (”Moulin Rouge: The Musical”) and set designer Bob Crowley, mounted a production at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2019, and the show was set to open on Broadway in 2020 until the pandemic put a halt to everything.
“At first, it was devastating,” says Taichman. “For all artists, not knowing how long it would last or what would come next felt like staring into the abyss. But then the opportunity to play the Huntington happened, and we had another opportunity to ask more questions and think about new ways to unlock this story for the stage.”
Says Walsh, “Rebecca is really forensic with her approach to directing. She steered me in new ways to open up the emotional subtext and deepen our relationships with the characters. We reworked scenes and added new ones, and we also added more video elements, since making the videos was so important to the kids in the band.”
“Sing Street” takes place at a time when Walsh was nearly the same age as its protagonists.
“The reality of life in Dublin in the early ‘80s was incredibly bleak and depressing, with 40 percent unemployment and so many parents out of work and out of options,” says Walsh. “I grew up in South Dublin, but I had the advantage of [novelist] Roddy Doyle as my teacher leading me into literature, so my idea of being cool at that age was learning how to smoke cigarettes while quoting Bukowski.”
“The kids in ‘Sing Street’ have a naïve but brilliant sense of confidence,” he says. “They make something out of nothing and are not afraid of failing along the way.”
With both “Once” and “Sing Street” set in Dublin and focusing on musicians, the comparisons between the two are unavoidable. But Taichman says the stories, as well as the musical logic, are completely different.
“‘Sing Street’ is not a conventional musical in that the band doesn’t form for the first 19 minutes of the show,” she says. “When they do start to play, it’s thrilling, and lifts you out of your seat.”
Both Taichman and Walsh agree casting was a particular challenge.
“We ask so much of these young people,” says Taichman. “They have to be excellent musicians as well as gifted actors. They also have to be unicorns, so that the audience wants to get to know each one of them a little better.”
Only a handful of the musical’s original cast members have continued with the show, with scheduling and some new ideas encouraging some changes.
“The best moments in the theater happen in that rub between what’s a dream and what’s real,” says Walsh. “This story speaks to that moment when young people use their imagination to create something wonderful from nothing. Through music, they change themselves and everyone around them.”
Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian has been named the new artistic director of Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, the producing arm of Boston University’s MFA playwriting program. Sandberg-Zakian, who most recently directed Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s “Much Ado About Nothing” on Boston Common, will be working closely with Nathan Alan Davis, newly named associate professor of the practice who will lead the playwriting program.
Sandberg-Zakian and Davis take over the reins from Kate Snodgrass, who held both positions for 32 years before retiring in June.
The theater has been the home for new plays and playwrights in Boston, while also hosting the Boston Theater Marathon and the New Voices playwriting festival for high school students.
“The connection between the playwriting program and the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre is a real asset to the community, and so important for the development of new plays,” says Sandberg-Zakian. “We have a direct line to the next generation of writers.”
Davis and Sandberg-Zakian say they are excited about the possibilities of working together. The two have known each other since 2015. Sandberg-Zakian has directed the world premieres of Davis’s “Nat Turner in Jerusalem,” “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” and the upcoming “The High Ground” at Arena Stage in February 2023.
“I’m galvanized by the way she talks about theater,” says Davis. “When a play is developing, it’s so helpful to have someone you can trust, who is willing to go through the ups and downs of the creative process.”
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company. At the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, Aug. 26-Oct. 2. Tickets: $25-$175. www.huntingtontheatre.org