Exuberant musical, ‘Paperboy,’ revives memories of Belfast 1975

Packing out any theater on a balmy August evening is no mean feat – but Belfast’s Lyric theater in collaboration with British Youth Music Theatre is doing exactly that this week.

And not just once, but several days in a row, often with matinee and evening performances. Try getting a ticket this weekend.

Paperboy musical, Belfast musicals, Lyric Theater Belfast

Photos courtesy of Lyric Theater Belfast

The show that’s leaving few seats unoccupied is the lively musical ‘Paperboy,’ an upbeat adaptation of a memoir by peacekeeper and author, Tony MacAulay.

This exuberant two-hour show, a partnership of composer Duke Special and writer/lyricist Andrew Doyle with co-direction by Dean Johnson and Steven Dexter, features up to 40 young performers.

Returning to northern Ireland’s leading theatrical venue after its successful premier last summer, it is winning standing ovations from enthusiastic audiences. So popular has it become, Alex Mastihi, head of development for the London-based British Youth Music Theatre, said it may be staged in New York.

Paperboy musical, Belfast musicals, Lyric Theater BelfastStarring talented teenagers aged between 13 and 19, this charming production focuses on a young boy called Tony, played delightfully by Sam Gibson, who launches what he terms his ‘rising career’ delivering the local newspaper door-to-door in a mainly Protestant area of west Belfast.

Along the way he meets Sharon, played beguilingly by Eimear Bailie, whose heart he hopes to capture, with romantic notions of whisking her away into the sunset. Or at least up the aisle.

Paperboy musical, Belfast musicals, Lyric Theater BelfastAlthough he’ll also settle for taking her as his date to a music concert every youngster yearns to be at.

For the year is 1975 and while bombs and bullets whiz around the city in a violent period colloquially termed ‘The Troubles’, it is also the year Scottish boyband, The Bay City Rollers, are the hottest ticket in town.

But like all good love stories, unforeseen obstacles must be overcome. In this case, bullies who steal Tony’s hard-earned cash and a formidable rival in the form of a fellow paperboy, who’s bigger, stronger, and a snazzy dresser with hair like David Cassidy. In short, a heart-throb of the local ladies, including Sharon.

Paperboy musical, Belfast musicals, Lyric Theater BelfastWith a set design by Natalia Alvarez featuring a newsprint silhouette of Belfast’s skyline, including its Victorian-era City Hall and Samson and Goliath, giant twin cranes of Harland & Wolff shipyard, birthplace of the ill-fated Titanic, the musical features not just catchy tunes such as ‘The Big Boys’ and ‘Heart Attacks’ but also some excellent choreography by Julia Cave with Matthew Reeve’s musical direction. All especially impressive considering the large number of performers on stage. I counted over 30 in one scene.

Innovatively, simple wooden beams are used to create a street taxi and the Tardis, a time-flying machine used by Doctor Who in the popular sci-fi TV series.

While the 1970s was a violent one in the history of Northern Ireland, the show avoids despondency and gloom. The only references to the civil strife are the distant sounds of simulated gunfire and an explosion that causes an avalanche of confetti to flutter from the ceiling. Not to mention amusing scenes featuring a giant effigy of Ian Paisley, an outspoken Presbyterian minister at the time, gruffly spouting anti-Vatican sentiments.

Paperboy musical, Belfast musicals, Lyric Theater BelfastBlack humor sketches are frequent including one scene in which Tony says, “On Thursdays there was ‘Top Of The Pops’ and on Fridays the Europa was bombed,’ referring to a hotel that gained notoriety as being the most bombed hotel in Europe.

The decade is firmly planted in the minds of the audience with references to popular TV shows such as ‘Blue Peter,’ ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘Kojak’ and well-known singers such as Olivia Newton-John and Marc Bolan.

Broad smiles (probably many arising from long-forgotten nostalgic memories of teenage romances) and hearty hand-clapping greeted a rousing finale featuring all the cast dancing and singing hit songs by the tartan-clad boyband.


2 thoughts on “Exuberant musical, ‘Paperboy,’ revives memories of Belfast 1975

  1. Paperboy deserves Broadway and The West End for sure. 2 hours flew by. But it’s nor just entertainment .. in a decade it may be on the curriculum as it raises big issues in Ireland about why we have the “troubles” and why we still have not sorted root causes like going to school together .

    Our whole family loved The Paperboy.


  2. Brilliant article – I attended the show and thought it was amazing. Having lived through the “troubles” and being of a similar age as Tony, I could relate to everything on the show. Lots of my family and friends were disappointed at not being able to get tickets for the show. Hopefully they will take the show on tour – Alexis Totten 😀


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