Angela’s Ashes: The Musical at Cork Opera House brings some belly-laughs to Frank McCourt's tale, writes.
“It was, of course, a miserable childhood. A happy childhood was hardly worth your while.”
So declares Frank McCourt (Eoin Cannon) setting the scene for Angela’s Ashes: The Musical, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1996 memoir.
The show opens with the McCourt family returning from the US to Limerick after losing baby daughter Margaret — feckless father (Marty Maguire) and the stoic Angela (Jacinta Whyte) determined to make a go of it back home.
“We were the only immigrants heading into Ireland,” says Frank. “Anyone with any sense was heading the other way.”
Written by Paul Hurt, with music and lyrics by Adam Howell, this production is a world away from the misery-drenched film of the same book.
The book is skilfully truncated, harvesting the best stories and judiciously sprinkling the Limerick vernacular throughout.
The pacing is also well-judged, the action zipping along nicely.
Given the McCourts’ litany of misfortune, including the deaths of several children, there is no shortage of sadness but these scenes are poignant rather than maudlin.
There are also plenty of belly laughs, including a hilarious Holy Communion scene.
The songbook is a perfect blend of emotional ballads and jauntier numbers, with strong vocal performances throughout.
Whyte’s powerful voice is showcased at its best in the moving Sing River Shannon.
Cannon anchors the production with poise as narrator Frank, skilfully moving from the innocence and playfulness of childhood to a teenager who experiences the joy of first love, even more loss and the dawning reality that he needs to escape.
His mellifluous tenor gives an added piquancy to the duet The Promise with Teresa (Brigid Shine).
The hard-working ensemble cast are well choreographed, providing a strong chorus as well as carrying out a multitude of scene changes aided by an inventive set design.
Maguire makes for a very convincing drunk, and there are well-judged comic turns from Norma Sheahan as Mrs Finucane and Michael Joseph as telegram boy Billy Heffernan.
Some of the accents, however, could have done with a little fine-tuning.
Ultimately, Frank gets his happy ending, and the audience are equally sated, getting to their feet for an appreciative standing ovation.