The creative team behind the Tony-winning "Once" on Broadway is back with another big Dublin musical, this time set in the fair city of the early 1980s.
As anyone who was there remembers, Dublin in the 1980s was like an airport, a place you bided your time in knowing that sooner or later you would have to leave.
In "Sing Street," the new musical now playing at the New York Theatre Workshop, even leafy south Dublin is not immune to the general economic collapse, with a generation of young people being stamped for export.
Based on director John Carney's acclaimed film of the same name, "Sing Street" the 2016 film was a joyous recreation of a shining moment in 1982 where some irrepressible youths press back against the confines of their broken society, but "Sing Street" the 2019 musical (with a book by playwright Enda Walsh) takes a somewhat darker path.
"Sing Street" the musical opens with an interviewer asking an unseen young woman what she thinks of her native country in 1982? The answer is precise as it is damming, 'it's no place for the young,' she says. There's your exposition at the top of the show. She plans to escape as soon as she can.
Then the lights come up on Conor ("Game of Thrones'" Brenock O'Connor) a Dublin teen who, due to his family's dire finances, has to leave his posh fee-paying school run by Jesuits to attend a free inner city one run by the Christian Brothers.
You may have to be Irish to know what a come-down in the world that is but O'Connor's (best known to US audiences as the wee Protestant boy in "Derry Girls" series two) stunned face leaves you in no doubt.
No sooner has he arrived at his new school but he's being targeted by the local bullies. In this case by Barry the swaggering school tough (played by American Idol's Johnny Newcomb) and by the sadistic school principal Brother Baxter (played with by Martin Moran).
The only glimmer of light on Conor's horizon is provided by the mysterious young woman called Raphina (Zara Devlin), a would-be model with a pair of killer shades and a punk rock pout he's instantly captivated by.
Finding out who Raphina is and how to date her is Conor's main task in act one and let's face it, that's not the most original story ever told. What really powers this drama is all the things that Conor would prefer not to deal with in his own home like his warring parents (played by Billy Carter and Amy Warren), his reclusive house-bound brother Brendan (Gus Halper), and the conformist hysterics of Brother Baxter.
Walsh takes Carney's script and makes Baxter look like an avuncular and even urbane observer of human follies. But that turns out to be a disarming tactic, because what he really is, we discover, is a vicious control freak enacting vengeance on a world that once overlooked him.
This is also where "Sing Street" the musical runs into trouble. Every hero needs a villain to define himself against but this slight tale is quickly overwhelmed by the scenery and actions that Walsh has given to Conor's nemesis on the premises.
If you are going to unlock this level of physical and psychological abuse then the story has to be about how Conor finds the courage to stand up to his attacker and free himself of all the fear he's facing.
That's not really what happens though. Instead, Brother Baxter is unconvincingly sidelined with a sing-song as Conor pursues his budding romance with Raphina.
Actors Billy Carter and Amy Warren do well with underwritten roles as faithless older people, embodying potential fates that Conor and his siblings want to avoid for themselves. With limited resources to work with and Conor and Brendan looking like complete write-offs, they decide that their daughter Anne (Skylar Volpe) will be the one they elevate, paying for her top-flight education as they neglect the other two.
This is the kind of adult betrayal that could be profitably explored on stage but instead their fraying marriage, adultery and breakup overtake it instead, adding layer upon layer of incident upon an already rocky foundation.
There are so many loose ends that don't cohere. It turns out that Barry the bully may be secretly gay with a crush on Conor that he reveals with a surprise peck on his cheek. Conor is dumbfounded by this, but he never recovers himself enough to speak, which is pretty unlikely given how much of a teenage topic being gay was in the 1980s.
Later Brother Baxter has a scene where he essentially waterboards the defiant Conor but that moment, one of the biggest and the most upsetting in the show, is quickly skipped over. Slow down, you almost want to say, can we see why this happened and what it might mean?
The Ireland of the 1980s was often a joyless theocratic gulag but the youth were also in full rebellion against it. "Sing Street" the musical doesn't really do more than dip its toe into the whys and wherefores of it, it simply follows one good-natured teen boy who bumbles his way through its horrors hoping to keep his dignity intact.
Some things are unexpectedly delightful, the costume design and the casting are chief among them. With the boys in Conor's band looking like they have literally raided their grandmothers' wardrobes, they surf a glam rock new wave that is calculated to affront most comers.
"Sing Street" has been cast with a mix of Irish and American performers and it's colorblind casting too, meaning that the show gains in all kinds of interesting ways (Gian Perez and Jakeim Hart are natural standouts) but it loses in some ways too (Gus Halper is a natural stage presence but his Dublin accent is a tough ask).
The music design is a delight, knowingly referencing the mighty synth sounds of that era with an encyclopedic mastery. But the original songs themselves are thin and forgettable, vanishing as soon as they end.
Director Rebecca Tiachman keeps things moving, often literally, as her sets and beds and pianos and drums are all on wheels and you can occasionally hear them trundling over the linoleum when a little silence might suffice.
Nothing good lasts forever, so for goodness sake strike out when you still have the chance 'Sing Street' reminds us. It's a bittersweet ending at best. Just as punk radicalized a generation of teens only to lead them cruelly on the Margaret Thatcher era, the boat that Conor and Raphina take to the faraway city of their dreams seems like a doubtful escape in this entertaining but unfinished production.