Asher Muldoon dissects his good musical “The Butcher Boy”


the butcher boywhich plays at the Irish Repertory Theatre, is one of the biggest musicals (in the style of Guignol) to open in New York since Sweeney Todd. Based on the novel by Patrick McCabe and directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, the show follows Francie Brady and her all-too-easy descent into madness. Asher Muldoon, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, spoke to Newsweek on creating the show.

When asked how he got the idea to adapt McCabe’s book specifically into a musical, Muldoon said Newsweek the novel “was given to me as part of a course, and it came at a time when I was kind of looking for something a little off the beaten path to try to adapt it into a show. It’s also the first show that I have I wrote the score all by myself. So, I wanted a kind of challenge. And I thought, Well, there’s so much natural musicality in the way the book is written that I just felt it lent itself to that form.

“I’m someone who’s generally of the view that there’s potential in most stories to be musical theater pieces. I think it has to be done in the right way. I think it there’s a lot of adaptations of things that could be good musicals that do it badly and don’t really think about why it’s a musical that’s how we get these movie adaptations that don’t have any sense.

“But in butcher boy there’s so much: there’s musicality in the sense that it’s Ireland, it’s the 60s. It’s kind of chaotic and surreal. These are, for me, all musical landmarks. So I felt it was a pretty natural thing, honestly, to put the story in a musical despite the fact that the story itself isn’t a common ground for a lot of us . Obviously there is violence; there is a lot of surrealism. These are things we’ve seen a lot in musicals at this point.

“The first show I saw was Sweeney Todd.”

Nicholas Barasch plays Francie Brady, the title character in the Irish Rep’s 2022 world premiere production of “The Butcher Boy”.
Carol Rosegg

Like many of Stephen Sondheim’s works, where you could say, “What’s the worst idea for a musical?” (Follies, Pacific Openings, We ride happily, Sunday in the park with Georgeetc.) we go out saying butcher boy is a very particular and personal work.

It is also a very Irish work. It deals easily, often comically, with dark issues, such as violence, abuse, and death. No spoilers here. Muldoon says, “There’s blood on the poster.”

Muldoon identifies with this side of his ancestry. He says: “My dad is Irish. I’m firmly in the half-Irish part. And I feel very, very attached to my Irish roots, as most Irish people do. For being such a small island, there’s so much pride. There is so much Irish pride around the world, especially among people who really have a strong connection to their family history.”

And then there is Irish theatre. In many ways, the culture lends itself to this art more than any other. Muldoon says: “You talk about things in a very Irish way. There was an article I was reading about Ireland, where he said something like, ‘In Ireland the dead never stay dead’ or something like that. Because the Irish people have a relationship, a kind of cross-relationship between their art, their music, their deaths and their kind of supernatural mythology. Everything is linked to each other. So much Irish art is about the death and the supernatural. I think that was something that really affected the way I wrote the show, because, you know, the Irish have a very, very different relationship to death than the Americans.”

An alarm clock and songs

The classic awakening scene in Edwin O’Connor’s novel The last hurray comes to mind. Muldoon said Newsweek“The idea of ​​a wake as a celebration, as opposed to a dirge, is kind of a foreign idea to those of us who have been to many funerals.”‘

This counterpoint between a light tone and a dark material is omnipresent butcher boy. Early on, we see the seeds of trouble within Francie presented in a light-hearted way. The show begins with Francie and her friend Joe stealing comics without a pang of guilt between them. They don’t care about the world. In fact, Francie says he can’t imagine his life getting any better.

Contrary to what Lehman Engel observed in most musicals, there is no “I want a song” in butcher boy. In fact, says Muldoon, “Francie starts the show with everything he wants. He already has everything he wants, which is kind of a huge no-no when it comes to writing a comedy. Typically in a musical you want the character starts out wanting something and then the musical is about them trying to chase it and somehow getting better.

“The butcher boy is not that kind of story. It’s quite the opposite. Francie starts the show with whatever he wants. The story is really all he likes to get abducted and it gets worse. Already it is something else.

“Francie comes from such a terrible, abusive home, where he’s had to put up this defensive wall of humor. He retreats into TV and comics and stuff. He’s built this kind of fictional wall around his existence.”

The TV is almost a character in itself. It fills the back wall with the set and we see shows from the 1960s, including The twilight zone. And comic book and candy images cover the decor, walls and props. Francie is a sponge for all these images; its roots in reality are – to say the least – not well anchored.

Flash Bars are a small but important Francie obsession. Muldoon says: “Flash Bars used to be real candy. They aren’t anymore. If Francie could live eating Flash Bars all his life, he would. And I think for a long time he does. That’s in somehow related to never really growing up. It’s such a childish idea that’s like, “Oh when I when I grow up”, not to paraphrase, Matildawhich is a show that I love, but like “When I grow up, I’ll only eat candy every day”.

“Francie starts the show at 12 and I don’t think he mentally gets past 12. He starts the show stealing comic books. And, by the end of the show, he’s still that kind of kid, but the stakes are much higher than stealing a lot of comics. It carries the same weight in his head: stealing comics as dealing with Mrs. Nugent.

Nicholas Barasch Butcher Boy and the Pigs
Teddy Trice, David Baida, Nicholas Barasch, Carey Rebecca Brown and Polly McKie as the pigs, devils on Francie Brady’s shoulder in the world premiere production of Irish Rep’s ‘The Butcher Boy’ in 2022.
Carol Rosegg

Then we have the pigs, which appear after a nasty comment from Ms. Nugent. They are seemingly everywhere, on stage, in Francie’s mind, and on all of the show’s artwork. And they personify – or do they porcinize? – his inner violent feelings.

For Muldoon, “The pigs plant the seeds of this idea which culminates at the end of the show. From that moment [when Mrs. Nugent slurs Francie’s family with the term]. I would say the first act is about the pigs so Francie will trust them. And then the second act is the pigs destroying everything. So they’ll go ask Francie to do what they wanted to do. And, of course, the pigs are just Francie. Theatrically, these are the forces trying to get Francie to do this incredibly violent thing.”

in temptation

They act in a way, like the devil on the shoulder of the hero of a medieval morality play, pushing him to commit violent acts.

“That’s what it all leads to,” Muldoon says. “The whole show is just kind of a construction of that last moment.”

All these elements come together to give a very quirky, often very funny show. Stephen Sondheim, who died last year, was a huge fan of Irish Rep’s work, appearing regularly and remembering the company in his will, he was also a famous writer. What if Sondheim had lived to see butcher boy, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that Muldoon received one of those thoughtful missives he would send to talented young theater makers. In his three creative roles here, Muldoon is off to a hell of a good start.

the butcher boy plays at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, New York, through September 11.

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