British actor Brenock O’Connor was in the departure lounge at Kennedy Airport in Queens a month ago, waiting to fly back to London, when he got the call.
The 20-year-old had seen his planned Broadway debut, a starring role in an adaptation of the movie musical “Sing Street,” paused indefinitely when Midtown’s theaters went dark March 12 due to the coronavirus outbreak. O’Connor himself had gotten sick, too, and he’d entered a precautionary 14-day self-isolation before readying to fly to the U.K.
But as he waited for his jet, one of the producers rang with an idea. Sure, the show couldn’t go on, but how about creating a video version?
“We’d all seen little things that shows were doing, little one-song appearances on talk shows,” O’Connor told the Daily News. “We just wanted to take that idea and build it. And make it on our own free-standing platform, to allow our voice to shine through.”
The idea blossomed from its initial ideation. And on Thursday night, a home-filmed 30-minute version of the musical ? a coming-of-age tale about a ragtag teenage band in 1980s Dublin ? will arrive on Facebook.
“Sing Street Grounded: At Home With the Broadway Cast” offers the production an abridged opening of sorts, 11 days after its brick-and-mortar premier was once planned to take place.
The pretaped streaming video, speckled with the play’s punk tunes, will double as a fundraiser for The Mayor’s Fund and Broadway Cares’ COVID-19 emergency charity. It will remain online for viewing until May 4.
Producers sent the cast bursting tech packages with microphones, lights and props for the virtual show, and The Actors’ Equity Association, a labor union representing Broadway performers, supported the project.
Rehearsals took place this month, with the cast spread out across the globe, from Ireland to California. O’Connor, who lives in Brighton, England, said he did his prep from an Airbnb in London where he has settled during the pandemic.
The homemade version will feature songs such as “Drive It Like You Stole It” and “Go Now,” which fans of the 2016 film will recognize. “Love and Stars,” a new tune written for the Broadway production, will be showcased, too.
More than a dozen actors were preparing to make their debuts on The Great White Way when “Sing Street” froze ahead of previews.
Zara Devlin, who stars opposite O’Connor, told the news website BroadwayWorld that she had just entered the historic Lyceum Theatre for the first time when the cast learned at a company meeting that the theater district was shuttering.
“I walked on the stage, I saw the theater,” Devlin, 24, told BroadwayWorld. “And then we were told a few minutes later that it was being shut down.”
While the digital edition won’t replace an on-stage introduction, O’Connor said the cast has gripped the opportunity to create a unique truncated take on a “story that refuses to not be heard,” a fable from the Irish capital in the ’80s, when many were out of work.
“It’s not trying to be this Broadway spectacle, because there’s nothing we can do to bring that scale to our living rooms,” O’Connor said. “But it’s got the heart of the piece. It’s got the passion. It’s got the drive. It’s got the message of: Times are tough, but you can take back control over your happiness.”
Stricken by the crisis, the entertainment world has carried forward. “Saturday Night Live” has filmed from the comics’ homes. Legendary musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has led social-media singalongs and started a cadenza competition. Even the “Ellen Show” has returned to the air.
Now, Broadway takes its first substantial stab at a coronavirus presentation, led by a cadre of youthful, tech-savvy performers.
The theater’s closed. But at least one show goes on.