Based on the best-selling memoir by Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes The Musical follows the life of an impoverished boy living in Limerick between the 1930s and 40s who dreams of something better. Frank (Eoin Cannon) relates how his Irish parents Angela (Jacinta Whyte) and Malachy (Marty Maguire) met, married, and started a family in Brooklyn before a death in the clan prompted them to return to Ireland. As Frank grows up, he and his family face challenges and struggle with tragedies. Frank starts school, has his first love, and learns much over the course of his ‘miserable, Irish, Catholic childhood’, always knowing that something bigger awaits him away from Ireland.
Charming, touching, tragic, funny, hopeful – these are just some of the words that describe Angela’s Ashes the Musical, which really will have you crying and laughing at various points throughout.
Eoin Cannon and Jacinta Whyte are absolute stars, with Cannon playing both child Frank and the narrator seamlessly while Whyte delivers a stirring performance. The rest of the ensemble are all excellent and when they join the leads on stage, it really comes alive. The play also includes the sadder moments that McCourt’s novel is renowned for, and the emotion of such moments is communicated beautifully through the acting of Cannon and Whyte as well as Maguire as Malachy and Emmet Byrne as Young Malachy. Other performances of note carry endearing comic relief, including Clare Barrett as Grandma and Mark O’Regan as Mr Griffin.
Frank McCourt’s book has been expertly adapted by Paul Hurt, maintaining many of its memorable lines as well as its smart, funny, thought-provoking dialogue, for example, Frank’s comments on how his family were the only ones going to Ireland, while anyone with any sense was going the other way. There are some very bold and un-PC jokes in it – if you’re looking for the very heart of Irish humour, you’ll find it here. In fact, the film is very much indebted to a sense of Irishness and twee factor, which it never cringes away from but rather embraces and reflects wholeheartedly, inviting all the audience into the craic and culture.
The titular song of “Angela’s Ashes” is a jovial, catchy, swelling tune and the rest of the score similarly avoids the sense of pompousness and unnecessary convolution associated with some musicals. The tunes are simple and snappy, the lyrics delightfully memorable, the melodies attractive to the ear. There are some gorgeous harmonies (one of the standouts being the song “Our Land”) and from the main cast to the ensemble, all can sing for their supper. Adam Howell’s music and lyrics deserve much credit for effectively maintaining a traditional ambience while also reflecting the sound of modern musicals, a line that must be tricky to keep balanced.
There are some really striking designs from the creative team involving gorgeous uses of light, umbrellas and chairs which show influence from other musicals such as Once and Oliver! while still being a work of their own. The choreography is also well done.
As you’ve likely heard, the musical is lighter than the book or film, and a thoroughly enjoyable theatre outing overall that will have you humming and chatting for hours afterwards.