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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
But don't go yelling flop just yet. High Fidelity is by no means a replay of this season's disastrous Dylan Dansical The Times They Are A-Changin'. It's also vastly superior to last seasonr's Lennon in which Will Chase, High Fidelity's own Rob, was good enough to top anyone's Five Reasons to See Lennon List (provided the listmaker could dream up four other qualifying items).
As High Fidelity's linchpin character Chase is in a much more felicitous situation. The show, which he very much holds together with disarming charm and a good voice, has other assets. And so, even if its staying power is unlikely to rival that of the neighboring Avenue Q (by the same producing team), or the next block's Phantom where lines snake around the block year after year, High Fidelity may well keep the Imperial Theater filled for a while with tourists and the crowd who loved Nick Hornby's 1995 novel and its quirky movie adaptation.
To support my opinion that this is a decent but less than top of the line entertainment, I'm going to succumb to the irresistible urge to sum up the show's pros and cons with two annotated Top Five Lists of my own, the first accentuating the positive and the second . . .well, you'll see:
The Top 5 Reasons to Applaud High Fidelity's Creative Team
1. Smart Adaptation. Trying to capture the flavor of both the novel and the movie is quite a challenge and playwright Lindsay-Abaire (whose own quirky plays include Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo and Wonder of the World) has done a creditable job in being true to both. Some losses are unavoidable since having these characters now sing as well as talk tends to strain rather than strengthen the basically slight plot.
2. Original Music. The oddballs who are fixtures in Rob's Championship Vinyl Store are obsessed with many of the pop culture icons mined by producers eager for another Mamma Mia! But, while that might make them naturals for a jukebox of jukebox musical, High Fidelity has an original score and lyrics. Tom Kitt's music is not gold or platinum record quality but it IS original. Some of the novelty numbers are enormous fun —for example, "Exit Sign" by Rob with a fantasy Neil Young (Matt Caplan) and "Good Bye and Good Luck" sung by Rob and John Patrick Walker as a spot-on Bruce Springsteen. As for the lyrics, Amanda Green, like Lindsay Abaire, has nabbed some of the best lines of the book (also captured in the movie). The book also smartly condenses Rob's revisit to his past relationships (the 5 top ones, naturally) and makes those old flames into the show's chorus.
3. Solid Direction. Under the savvy and peppy direction of Walter Bobbie, Rob and Laura's best number, "I Slept With Someone", is so wittily staged that it gets the second and infinitely better act off to a flying start — and that initial number gathers full steam with the pièce de résistance production number, "Conflict Resolution." Bobbie also keeps the show moving along and manages to make the relatively underpopulated stage look less so (even though there are times when Rob, Barry and Dick's constant rearranging of the vinyl bins' contents reminds one of the TV news anchors when they shuffle their notes around to appear busy while the final credits roll by).
4. Super Duper Sets. Anna Louizos' flip-flopping, rolling scenic design is a show in itself, taking us from Rob's apartment with its floor to ceiling assemblage of compulsively organized albums to his store and even a health club. Ken Billington's lighting and Theresa Squire's costumes add the sparkle and pizzazz that audiences expect for their high priced Broadway show tickets.
5. Strong Cast. The cast lacks any blue chip box office names but what the fourteen performers lack in name recognition is balanced by tons of energy. While Chase is the show's centerpiece, the standouts are secondary players: Christian Anderson as the part time hire but always present clerk Dick, Jay Klantz as Barry and Rachel Stern as Liz, Rob's recently lost girlfriend's best pal. Anderson is especialy good as the shy clerk whose very posture and speech shout "loser." His singing brings the most electricity to the stage and one wishes there were more songs like his "Not a Problem" (which is happily reprised as a duet).
The Top 5 Reasons High Fidelity Is an Okay but Not Hurray- Hurray Musical
1. The Minor Players' Strengths Undermine the Leads. It's great to see the supporting roles well delivered. However, in this show these characters often overshadow the leads which is especially true of Jenn Colella who plays Laura, Rob's latest romantic misfire. Colella does the best she can with what she gets (only two major songs) but she's more ensemble member than co-star. Most egregiously, the terrific scene when Barry's band, shades of the Temptations, so dominates the finale that Rob and Laura appear to be mere extras.
2 Anemic Choreography. As the show only occasionally really rocks enough to get even the core audience clapping and shaking their shoulders, it also seems to beg more memorable dancing than what's provided by Christopher Gattelli.
3. Lost Authenticity. The locale shifts, from London (the book) to Chicago (the movie) and now an as yet ungentrified section of Brooklyn, has softened the picture of a world inhabited by the obssessively, nerdy collector for whom these old vinyl records are a sort of Peter Pan escape from the grown up man's world. (The vinyl obsession seems to be a guy counterpart of the girls who fixate on doll collections). Too often the denizens of Championship Vinyl simply seem like people hanging out at Starbucks or the Seinfeld gang gathering in the neighborhood diner for endlessly aimless chatter.
4. Broadway Pandering Plot Elements. High Fidelity ends up pairing off everyone a little too neatly in happy ending Broadway show style. Having even the rambunctious Barry end up happily paired off (with who else but Liz) dilutes the edgy tone called for. And while the referential text snippets obviously needed updating to reflect the present time and setting, the references to John Tesh and Celine Dion are pretty lame.
5. Songs Too Weak to Add Up to a Top 5 Song List. The memorable music on all those old vinyl records is a tough act for composer Kitt to follow. While the snappy staging helps, it doesn't make the mostly repetitious score memorable. Consequently, I can't follow this with a list of the High Fidelity's Top 5 Most Stick to the Ears Songs.
Despite the lack of songs that demand to be heard again the show overall is okay but not great. It did hook me into this top five list making mode — a temporary aberration, I promise.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide