Hub Irish take star turn in 'On Broadway'

In 2006, local filmmaker Dave McLaughlin took to the streets with his Boston-bred cast to begin filming "On Broadway," the story of a carpenter-turned-playwright in Irish-American Boston. Noted as "the next Good Will Hunting" in Boston Magazine, McLaughlin's "On Broadway" made its Boston debut this week at a March 12 charity event, with proceeds going to the Joey Fund. The film will be released to local theatres March 14.

McLaughlin, a South Boston native, said he is tired of seeing Boston-based movies like "The Departed" and "Gone Baby Gone" that focus on crime and violence in Boston neighborhoods.
At right: Writer and director Dave McLaughlin

"We wanted to make a film that speaks to regular folks in the community and their day-to-day struggles," McLaughlin said. "That's where this movie lives." It's about the commitment to family and community that defines this city's Irish-American neighborhoods, he said.

The film's protagonist, Jack O'Toole (played by Joey McIntyre) is a 30-something everyman, grieving his uncle's death and his own strained relationship with his father. With faith in the power of stories to bring people together, Jack sets out to tell his uncle's story; through laughter and love he hopes to mend ties with his father and help the neighborhood move beyond their loss. Jack writes and produces a play on the only stage he can afford, in the back room of a Boston pub, on a street called Broadway.

The film is based on McLaughlin's early playwriting experiences 10 years ago, when he wrote "God Willing" after someone close to him had died. He put the play on for several months in the back room of The Burren, a popular Irish pub in Somerville.

"It was a very sort of pure experience," McLaughlin remembers. "No one was making any money. No one was getting famous… But there was a strong camaraderie. It was a powerful experience connecting with the audience and doing meaningful work."

Since "God Willing," McLaughlin's success led him to Los Angeles, where he said he started to miss the feeling he had while working in Boston, "in the humblest of settings," with local actors who were invested in their subject.

In addition to McIntyre, a Jamaica Plain native, the film's cast includes Dorchester's Robert Wahlberg, as well as Eliza Dushku, Mike O'Malley, and Lance Greene, all from other parts of the Boston area.

"The piece spoke to them," McLaughlin said of his cast. "They wanted the chance to come home and be a part of the project, to capture Boston the way it hasn't been seen before."

"It's a natural thing to want to come home and make movies about where you live," said Wahlberg, who plays a "quirky bar owner" with a "wise-guy sense of humor" he says is typical of Bostonians.

"My character could have been any one of the guys I knew growing up in Dorchester," said Wahlberg, who has lived in Dorchester his whole life, save one year spent in Los Angeles. "All of the characters are close to home," he said, noting that his nine-year-old son, Oscar, also has a role in the film. He plays one of the four main characters as a child, Wahlberg said, and reenacts the legendary 1965 scene when Celtics' player John Havlicek stole the ball and won the Eastern Conference championship for Boston in the final seconds of the game.

"This film shows that Boston has some talent," Wahlberg said. "Usually, films come into town looking for one or two actors with a Boston accent. This film really showcases Boston's actors."

Each with their own roots in the city, the cast members had little difficulty recreating everyday life in Boston with a full Irish flavor said Wahlberg, with a nod to McLaughlin.

"Dave's writing really captures all that."

"[The film] was a good opportunity to expose the Boston Irish community and the cultural nuances of neighborhood life in Boston," McLaughlin said. "There's nothing like it," he said of the community. "There's something very specific to Boston and we wanted to capture that."

Filming all over Boston, from the Skellig Pub in Waltham, to Roslindale, Cambridge, South Boston, Copley Square, and the Boston Public Library, "On Broadway" is "Boston done in Boston," said Wahlberg. "It's not Hollywood Boston."

Some B-roll filler shots were shot in Dorchester, said Lance Greene, actor and producer of "On Broadway." There is also a scene that takes place in the Dorchester North Burying Ground at Uphams Corner, McLaughlin said.

So far, "On Broadway" has won the Grand Jury Prize at the New Hampshire Film Festival and the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Woods Hole Film Festival. It was also runner up for Best First Feature Film at the Galway Film Fleadh. The film will be released to the Somerville Theater, Dedham Community Theater, West Newton Cinema and Sharon Cinemas 8 on March 14.