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How the Broadway-bound ‘Sing Street’ reinvented itself as a Facebook Live Zoom revue

Part Zoom call, part musical revue, ‘Sing Street: Grounded’ delivers a fun, unique piece of virtual theater.

How the Broadway-bound ‘Sing Street’ reinvented itself as a Facebook Live Zoom revue
[Photo: courtesy of Smuggler/Droga5]

When New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced the suspension of all Broadway theater performances back on March 11, the young cast of the upcoming musical Sing Street were two weeks away from celebrating their Broadway debut. Previews of the show, adapted from the 2016 film of the same name, were scheduled to start on March 26.

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Instead, that day the cast and producers held a Zoom call.

But what could’ve been a somber wake for what might’ve been quickly sparked an idea to help maintain the show’s momentum, give the cast a chance to show off their chops, and help crisis relief efforts—all at the same time.

The result is Sing Street: Grounded, a homespun revue of the film’s songs and story, hosted and performed by cast members isolated at their homes scattered around the United States and the globe, and broadcast on Facebook Live today from 6:30 p.m. ET to 7 p.m., then available on demand through May 4. It’s also a benefit for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS charities to help their respective crisis relief efforts.

The Sing Street musical is produced by American-British film producer Barbara Broccoli, known for her work on the James Bond film series. and Smuggler, a production company that typically works in films and commercials, but broke into theater with the award-winning musical Once, based on the 2007 film. Two Irish films, two Broadway adaptions—and hopes for the second to repeat the first’s critical and commercial success. Smuggler cofounder and show producer Patrick Milling-Smith loved how the chemistry among the cast was still so palpable on their Zoom call that he sent a recording of it, along with some of the social posts that the cast had been doing from home, to frequent collaborator David Droga, founder and chairman of ad agency Droga5.

“Then he called and said, ‘You know what would be great is if they tried to put on the show,'” says Milling-Smith. “Now, obviously you can’t put on a whole show, so that morphed into ‘let’s try and put on a revue.'”

From there, Milling-Smith and Smuggler, together with Droga5, the stage show’s production team and director Rebecca Taichman, and film director Henry-Alex Rubin began figuring out what form that revue would take.

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First, they had to tackle the logistical challenges. Spread across Ireland, Great Britain, New York, California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, Florida, Vermont, and Massachusetts, cast members had their phones and laptops, and producers sent everyone AirPods and a microphone. Beyond the time-zone challenges, there were also the differences in connectivity between actors in major cities such as New York and, say, Zara Devlin (who plays Raphina) at her parents’ house in the Northern Ireland countryside.

Smuggler and Droga5 first broke out as companies in 2006 with an award-winning piece of work for Marc Ecko called “Still Free,” which played on early internet video to pull off a prank that tagged Air Force One. Since then, the two shops have collaborated on numerous ad campaigns and projects for such major brands as Puma and Harley-Davidson, among others.

“The fact there were so many preexisting relationships where we have worked together allowed us to hit the ground running in this Zoom world,” says Droga5 global chief creative officer Neil Heymann. “The same was true of the cast, who’ve had months of working together and getting to know each other. So how do you make it feel like that when people are thumbnails in a Zoom grid?”

Creatively, it was about making something that was true to the show, but not trying to be the show.

“One thing we had to be very careful about is this is not the Broadway show,” says Milling-Smith. “We’d never be able to do justice to what Rebecca’s built on stage. We have no props, no sets, no costumes, so early on we realized this has to feel very different. It just needs to represent a bit of dramatic musical theater in its essence. And if we can showcase the talent and the spirit, but also the camaraderie and personality of the cast, then we’re doing something right.”

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Heymann says that it was very clear the cast were a very tight-knit group and the goal was to help them channel that energy. “That was really the North Star for this,” says Heymann. “How do we give this really talented, mostly young cast a chance to still have an audience for this thing they’ve worked so hard on? That helped us with a lot of the decision-making along the way.”

The show itself is hosted by the cast, with various actors talking about their characters, as well as acting out short scenes and vignettes to add context to the musical performances. Part of the inspiration for this format comes from DVD commentary tracks, and even record liner notes, and how they offered the artists’ insight into the work before the internet and Genius made it so easily accessible.

“We even talked a bit about mixtapes, and the way Quentin Tarantino puts together a soundtrack album with snippets of dialogue and key movie scenes that put the songs in context so it’s more than just a playlist,” says Heymann. “It’s far more intimate, up close and personal than you’d get from a Broadway show. And even little things like having the performers talk about what the material means to them, and walk people through the storyline, helps it to feel like you’re getting a peek into the process and getting to know this charismatic cast, and not just watching a performance.”

Sing Street: Grounded is landing at an interesting time for pandemic entertainment. Weeks into this crisis, many of us are not only acclimatized to the nuances of videoconferencing throughout our workday but have an increasing number of options in our entertainment, whether it’s late-night hosts performing shows from home or larger charity concerts such as Post Malone’s Nirvana covers set to raise money for the World Health Organization. Here, the streaming show extends to Broadway, but also uses creative flourishes and direction to make it much more than a Zoom sing-along.

Given the pedigree and past working relationship between Smuggler and Droga5, it’s also a canny piece of creative marketing for a show that still hopes to open once it’s safe again. “The priority is obviously to land a message and call to action for a good cause, which is to help these charitable organizations, but it’s also to give people some relief and entertain them,” says Milling-Smith. “All it’s supposed to do is wash over you and create a feeling. Hopefully that motivates you to put your hand in your pocket for these charities, but maybe you’re also encouraged to download the album we produced.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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