A new week, a new screen-to-stage idea.
Six days ago, I theorized that stale horror movies would gain much more taste in the hands of innovative theatre directors bringing new visions to the same old scare tactics. This week’s far less radical brainstorm pertains to Sing Street, the near-forgotten but still best movie musical of last year (yes, this proclamation should be read as an indirect affront to La La Land; and no, this declaration should not be read as an indirect critique of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, which does not sufficiently adhere to the genre’s structurally rigid dictates, thus preventing it from being 2016’s cinematic musical pinnacle), directed by Once’s John Carney. Similar to how the (admittedly inferior, but still) Broadway adaptation of his previous movie musical brought new dimensions to the story, I believe Sing Street would benefit even more from the Great White Way.
Though I very much enjoyed Once on stage, the almost unavoidable spectacle of the bright lights in the big city—AKA the immense size of the theaters—couldn’t help but diminish the exponentially endearing “guerrilla independent” vibe of the original, despite the best efforts of John Tiffany—the production’s director—to retain that charm through the folksy intimacy of the onstage band. This aural imagery merely brought to the surface—as opposed to insightfully revealing—the communal nature of Irish music already prevalent in the film.
A theatrical version of Sing Street, however, would elucidate the implication—one of its subtly smartest aspects—that the music the audience hears is not the actual songs that the kids record. Take its catchiest—and probably most central—number: “Drive It Like You Stole It.”
There’s literally zero chance that a student band had the production prowess (nor the funds) to create such a professional track. Rather, the flick suggests that music—and all art, represented in the main character’s visualized fantasies that the audience watches when he performs—can elevate the mundanity of ordinary lives through pursuing artistic ambition. As such, Carney elevates the sound of their music to capture not what they’re recording in reality but rather what they dream of recording, reinforcing that youthful dreams should always be valued more than the reality of the young, for the former can very easily become the latter later in life.
This notion that art can enlighten the magical theatricality of our corporeal existences has always been at the core of live musical theater, one of the reasons that director Rob Marshall in his adaptation of Chicago located a lot of the song performances—which obviously couldn’t have been sung in the characters’ true realities—on a stage…on screen. Sing Street could channel this concept by almost reversing it; each number would start in the dingy set/environment/reality in which the characters standardly reside, but as the tunes progress, the kids replace their drab surroundings with more and more spectacle, re-connecting to the aforementioned assertion that art can help people not so much transcend their destitution as transform it into the wonders of Broadway.
New York City’s theatre intelligentsia tend to scoff at any and all such stage-to-screen projects, yet this shortsighted habit ignores the rich history of Broadway adaptations. I guarantee that a majority of these folks’ favorite musicals were inspired by books (you know, like THE musical of the 21st century: Hamilton), previously the most consumed form of artistic expression. But ever since movies became America’s preferred route to escapism, theatre has expectedly followed suit by turning their commercial gaze on bringing these stories to the stage (many of which were in fact originally based on books). Instead of lambasting this process in general, people who need people—AKA us theater obsessives—should realize that ultimate execution always trumps root plans. Any movie could theoretically be turned into a great musical; it just entirely depends on HOW the creators go about doing so. As long as the stage illuminates new aspects of familiar stories—in ways such as those previously described here regarding a possible Sing Street musical—these unoriginal enterprises should be welcomed with equally open arms as every other musical venture, for originality comes in many shapes and sizes…
…just as long as that shape and size never comprises a Broadway adaptation of La La Land with its relatively weak score that relies on celebrating the Golden Age of HOLLYWOOD, NOT the Great White Way. BUT, that’s a debate for another day…