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With the whole world dancing to the beat of Broadway’s drum these days, the all-dancing, all-singing, all-kicking battle to be crowned The Greatest Showman has never been greater.
And it’s never been so much fun, with the New York musical a major attraction, not only for Americans but for every Thom, Dickus and Paddy around the world.
For local lad Mark O’Looney, it’s pretty much a dream come true. Currently studying for his MBA at Cornell Tech in New York, it was back in 2015 that he set up Boulevard Productions, their first show, Once More, From The Top, arriving soon afterwards. A show Mark wrote, produced and starred in, his love of the musical saw this core group of friends delivering several concerts over the following years, including their first full-scale musical, Daddy Long Legs, in 2018.
During all that time, Mark watch almost 100 shows on, and off, Broadway, and he’s now decided to pull together the very best of that musical marathon for Bringing Broadway Home. And so, alongside classic songs that have stood the test of time will be freshly-minted Broadway gems that may just become the classics of tomorrow.
It’s the sort of show that Hugh Jackman would no doubt love. And love to be a part of. It’s certainly a show that Mark O’Looney loves being a part of, as he explains here…
Broadway didn’t really become Broadway until 1750, when actor-managers Walter Murray and Thomas Kean established a theatre company on Nassau Street, whilst Niblo’s Garden arrived in 1829, bringing the musical centre stage. Was there a moment when you realised there was a Narnia out there for you…?
Ireland has always had an incredible theatre scene, but I’ve always felt that something was missing. It’s easy to look back and say I knew everything would work out but honestly, I didn’t. I remember the moment I said I’m going to venture into the unknown but I guess I didn’t know at the time it was my Narnia. I was sitting in a production of Oklahoma and thinking we can do better. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Rodgers and Hammerstein, but there are so many musicals out there that just weren’t making it to Ireland, as there was a fear they wouldn’t sell. I thought if they work in New York and London, why not Ireland?
It was really the greatest showman, P.T. Barnum, who cemented Broadway’s reputation in the 1830s, and an all-singing, all-dancing beauty was born. Do you have a favourite era, a favourite musicals icon…?
I really believe each era has its own highs and lows, and I truly do love them all, but as for a musical icon, that would be Jonathan Larson. His music always spoke to me; it has a powerful message and he tackled taboo issues that no one else was talking about at the time. He was incredibly ahead of his time but, tragically, he died the morning of the first preview performance of his show Rent that was playing Off Broadway.
You set up Boulevard Productions in 2015 – a natural progression, or a leap in the dark…?
A leap in the dark, I knew a bunch of performers but I knew nothing about writing, producing or directing. It was difficult, as I was questioned every step of the way, and I had to just be confident in my decisions, but it has been an incredible journey and I’m glad I jumped.
You started with Once More, From The Top, and most recently, Boulevard produced its first full-scale musical, Daddy Long Legs. I’m guessing a full-scale musical must take at least a year to pull together. Or maybe it takes a lifetime of experience…?
It takes everything you have to give and more, but I loved every minute of it. It was about 3 years in the making, although, a lot of that was fundraising. I think the main thing is having a support network to bounce ideas off. Without them, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to bring it to life.
You’re bringing your ‘love letter’ to the musicals to Ireland, Bringing Broadway Home pulling together the cream of the 100 musicals you’ve seen on Broadway and off over your year of studying for your MBA at Cornell Tech. Easy to edit down so many choices to one show…?
There is a world of new music over here, some good and some bad, but there have definitely been songs that have stuck with me. Overall, the decision was easy, because I built the set list based on the audience and the performers.
Will there be songs that people know, or is this a celebration purely of all the new musicals…?
Yes absolutely, the great thing about Broadway is it’s not just new musicals, there are new revivals every year as well as the classics that have run for years. So, although there will be new music there will also be songs from Carousel, Phantom of the Opera, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma and the Disney Classics, such as Aladdin and The Lion King.
Are you heartened by the phenomenal success of a movie like The Greatest Showman, and the continued rebirth of the Disney musical and the omnipresence of TV talent shows? It would suggest a whole new generation falling in love with musicals again.
I love movie musicals, and while I think it’s wonderful that they are becoming so popular, I honestly believe there is no substitute for live theatre. Shows like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen are also doing a fantastic job at introducing musical theatre to a younger generation.
Boulevard is very much a family affair – Eoin is your fiancé, and you have close friends Róisín, Naoise and David in the gang too. I’m guessing, given the commitment and dedication involved in putting on a full-scale musical, dedication beyond 9-to-5 is key. This has to be a labour of love for those involved…
Absolutely, most of us have a million other things to do, but the key to being successful is being prepared. We all come into every rehearsal knowing our stuff, so we can fly through it, but, honestly, we have so much fun that we don’t mind putting in the extra work. We really are like a family, spending time with each other is an absolute dream. All I can say is, if you have half as much fun watching the show as we do performing in it, you’ll have a wonderful evening.
You can catch Bringing Broadway Home at The Whale on Saturday, July 6th, and find out more about Boulevard Productions right here.