Tuesday, August 18, 2009

High Fidelity, HIgh Expectations

High Fidelity
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics by Amanda Green
Book by David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed and Choreographed by Peter Amster
Piper's Alley
230 West North Avenue, 3rd floor
Route 66 Theatre Company

Originally a novel by British author Nick Hornby, but drawing more heavily from the Chicago-planted John Cusack film adaptation from 2000, comes High Fidelity, the musical. It's the story of Rob, the owner of a struggling record store trying to work his way through a trail of failed relationships in hopes to win back his latest ex-girlfriend, Laura.

What works well for the show is the environment. It's the story of a small group of friends connected by their love of music. They work in a record store by day and hang out at band bars at night. Putting it in a cabaret/night club setting is the right move. But I will say, if you're going to emulate a bar atmosphere, get a better selection of beer. No bar these characters would go to would serve a "carb free" beer.

This ambitious Route 66 Theatre Company production has its bright spots, but ultimately can't overcome the inherent issues in the story. First off, if your main character is a 40-something loser with a Hair Club for Men coif who still sleeps on a futon that doubles as his couch and is a douchebag when it comes to women, I'm going to have a hard time rooting for the dude. And when the love of his life is a 40-something lawyer who leaves him to find herself and then hooks up with an even douchier dude, well, she gets what she deserves.

If you have any familiarity with the original story, you may be wondering about my reference to the lead characters being in their 40s. They're not supposed to be. Even this production's website describes them as being in their 30s. One of the issues, is that the lead actors don't look it. They look old enough to know better and to have already worked out this stuff. The character of Rob, as written, is a bit of a jerk, but he's a jerk with charm and natural charisma and he means well and you cheer for him when he succeeds and you feel bad when he falls back. Such is not the case here. Stef Tovar, who seems like a competent actor, is miscast. The part of Laura, played by Tricia Small, is thin and underwritten, so its difficult to lay too much burden on her performance. What is definitely missing when these two are together on stage is chemistry. There's no reason for the audience to want them to get together, except to wrap up the show.

Behind the leads, is an excellent supporting cast full the spark and great singing chops one would expect from a musical about the love of rock and roll. Michael Mahler as "Dick" and Blair Robertson as "Anna" steal the show with the too few moments they have together on stage. Jonathan Wagner, in the thankless role of "Barry" that was a breakthrough for Jack Black in the film, does an admirable job and nearly brings the damn house down with the kick ass finale number "Turn The World Off."

Basically, the story has problems. A lot of telling us how people think and feel without showing us. It surprised me when Dick and Barry, the two record store employees, show up at the funeral of their boss's ex-girlfriend's father in the second act, but then I remembered someone mentioned in the first act that they liked Laura. Um, yep. There's a lot of that going on. These story telling flaws can only be overcome with super dynamic actors in the leads, which, they unfortunately don't have here.

Full Price, Discounted Ticket, Comp or Avoid Altogether?

Comp. If you get a chance to see it for free, go see it. I not, go rent the DVD and enjoy the movie's soundtrack, it's like listening to a freeform FM station from the 70s.


Anonymous said...

Laura is played by Tricia Small

Joe Janes said...

Thanks for the correction. I appreciate it.