Such is the case when comparing the newly opened New Line revival of its hit show, "High Fidelity" to its original 2008 production (a production which opened close on the heels of the original failed Broadway run). In true New Line fashion, director Scott Miller pared the show down to what was necessary: the tale of a commitment-shy Gen X-er struggling, buoyed by his love of music, to grow up and become a human – and by focusing on that, he made the show a hit of the 2008 season. Not resting on his laurels, though, in this production Miller opens up the space a little, allowing musical numbers to joyously jump out at you.
The show starts out in a record store (smartly re-conceived by Scenic Designer Scott L. Schoonover using vinyl records, sleeve jackets, album covers, cassette covers, and CD’s, as well as yards of unwound cassette tape). A lone boombox sits on a stool, cranking out The Doors, and other influential artists, for our pre-show. When the lights come down up, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” (a sly reference to the John Cusack/Jack Black film version of the Nick Hornby novel "High Fidelity"on which the musical is based), leads us into a Real World-style “confessional”.
The story follows Rob, a man-child owner of “the last real record store on earth” - in the midst of a series of self-confessions. Unfortunately, no one but his employee buddies, Dick and Barry (who came in as customers, but like Rob, never left) seems to appreciate the gem that is original vinyl recording. To top it off, Rob’s fidelity isn’t very high after all, which causes a painful break-up with his current love, Laura - who, Rob claims, isn’t high enough on his breakup list (represented in the show by a quintet of Greek Chorus backup singers known as “The Exes”) to hurt him. We soon see this is a lie, as his half-assed attempts to win her back pushes her into the arms of Ian, a smug, tantric-sex-promoting, self-help guru whose claim to fame is handling Kurt Cobain’s intervention, and drives him into the arms of up-and-coming emo star Marie LaSalle, whose failed tryst with Lyle Lovett leaves her “ready to settle” for anybody; in this case, Rob. Both Rob and Laura (huh – never noticed the Dick Van Dyke reference til now) instinctively feel that the new relationships are somehow not right, but it’ll take Rob manning up (with the auspicious help of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen) to set it all right.
The book by David Lindsay-Adaire is laugh-out-loud funny, but without losing the essential core of humanity and reality. The score by Tom Kitt and Amanda Green is rockin’ through and through. If you listen closely you hear clever evocations of any number of influences that you would buy in this very record shop - in the opening number alone (“The Last Real Record Store on Earth”), if you listen closely you hear musical homages to (and sometimes actual snippets of) Talking Heads, Lenny Kravitz, The Who, U2, and many more. In other numbers, you hear shades of Aretha, The Beatles, Styx, Pat Benatar, Indigo Girls, Ben Folds, Guns ‘N Roses, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg, The Sex Pistols and Percy Sledge! A popular music lovers dream!
Direction by Miller keeps the show fast and funny, while also pausing enough to catch the real pathos arising in our characters lives. Lighting by Kenneth Zinkl pops, and spruces up the lively musical numbers, while nicely delineating the “French scenes”. Costumes by Amy Kelly quickly fill us in on character, while displaying more than a hint of humor. Choreography by Robin Michelle Berger makes good use of the considerable movement talents of the cast, with just enough flash in the dance moments, and just enough improv in the many rock-out moments. Some of my favorite parts of the show involved Ms. Berger’s encyclopedic knowledge of “back-up singer moves.” The onstage band, led by Justin Smolik, rocks very well, and will have you dancing a little in your seat.
As our anti-hero Rob, Jeffrey M. Wright smartly pulls off the daunting task of being a likeable ass – both disarmingly charming and wanna-slap-him-smarmy at the same time – you can’t not like him, even though most times he’s a douche. His rich singing voice is – literally - the anchor of the show. Kimi Short is equally appealing as his love, Laura. She grounds the part with equal parts weariness, wariness and spunk. Mike Dowdy as the love-starved music nerd Dick, plays and sings with a likeable goofiness, while Terrie Carolan as his awkward dream girl Anna, compliments him with an endearing, almost fragile sweetness. Zachary Allen Farmer is a hoot as the rock star wannabe Barry, almost apoplectic with rage over his customers lack of musical taste (anybody check out the clerks at Vintage Vinyl recently?), and his eleventh-hour number is a highlight of the production. Aaron Allen is appropriately slimy as the platidunious, tantric-sex obsessed Ian, and Talichia Noah delivers as Rob and Laura’s caught-in-the-middle friend Liz, seeing through both of their bullshit, as those caught in the middle often do. Margeau Baue Steinau whips her hair ferociously, and sings with Alanis-like ennui as Marie. Ryan Foizey does a nifty Neil Young, and Todd Micali has a lot of fun, making a winning Bruce Springsteen, right down to the bulging neck veins. Carolan, Noah, Chrissy Young, Taylor Pietz and Sarah Porter as the back-up girls, The Exes, are the wailing, rocking, shimmying glue of the show – but Micali, Foizey, Nicholas Kelly and Keith Thompson as backup, and various customers prove that the backup boys can rock as well.
The newly revived show has lost none of its original verve – in fact you could say this show is “re-mastered” – in its new space, it takes the already clean master material and polishes it further, opening up the stage to let the “confessional booth” tone of this charged rock musical spill out into the laps of the audience and make us question our own behaviors in our relationships, and explore how to forgive and be forgiven.
Tickets for this one will sell fast (in fact, I plan on seeing it again), so if rockin’ music with a good story is your idea of great entertainment, plan on seeing New Line’s "High Fidelity", running through June 23rd, at New Line’s space at the Wash U South Campus Theatre. For tickets, call Metrotix at 324-534-1111 or visit the Metrotix website, or visit newlinetheatre.com.