Nothing much happens in the new Broadway musical High Fidelity, but the enthusiastic cast works hard trying to convince us otherwise. They dance with athletic bounce and deliver the not so bad pop/rock tunes with committed zest, but the evening directed by Walter Bobbie fails to engage and is most notable as an exercise in what not to do.
In bringing High Fidelity (based on the Stephen Frears’s 2000 successful film of the same name that was itself adapted from Nick Hornby’s 1996 novel) to the stage the producers of the mega hit musical Rent have latched onto a smart idea; turn the romantic comedy into a rock musical about hip young urban adults. In an obvious attempt to capitalize on the success of Rent, they have put together a high profile team of talent that seems to have missed the point of the source material.
The book by David Lindsay-Abaire chronicles a tale about a young man Rob (Will Chase), who loses his girl, Laura (Jenn Colella) and then gets her back, adheres closely to the original novel, but the characters haven’t been fleshed out. There is no inherent struggle to change, and you wonder why they get back together in the end. Rob is an unsympathetic lout, who appears to sabotage his chances, but still Laura takes him back. In the film Rob, played by John Cusack, was obnoxious, but underneath was an endearing realness that made you like him anyway, so you understood her attraction to him. On Broadway Laura is underwritten and neither character evolves in any way. There are no complexities to their relationship, and we learn little of the dynamics that bind them.
Laura leaves Rob because he was unfaithful; they sleep with other people, and then reunite, but why. If Abair intended the story as a comment on the inability to break free of sexual addiction, I guess he makes a point. I believe, however, this is a love story with charm, and we need to become involved with the characters as they wrestle their internal demons and ultimately learn to adapt. This is fertile territory that could be layered with dichotomy and nuance, especially considering our society’s dysfunctional concepts of love. Nothing happens in Abair’s account to validate their reunion, and their journey is non-existent. These characters appear to feel nothing except when they break into song in vain attempt to prove otherwise.
Another problem that further distances us from the action is the lack of chemistry between the two leads. Will Chase has a likable quality, but his performance is one noted. Jenn Colella is lovely to look at, but displays little charm or quirky humor leaving us to wonder just what draws Rob to her.
The rock music by Tom Kitt is laced with heavy metal chords throughout giving it a manic intensity. The rhyming lyrics by Amanda Green are unfortunately rather corny and often startlingly vulgar in an attempt to be hip. There are, however, a few amusing numbers.
The very funny “I Slept With Someone” is the evening’s highlight. The leads have both just had sex with other people, and they are reflecting on their conquests in a witty duet. The song is beautifully staged by Mr. Bobbie on a whimsical set that is a marvel as it flips intricately to simultaneously reveal two separate bedrooms.
The vigorous choreography by Christopher Gattelli is punctuated with lively kicks and jumps, but it suffers with an animated vigor that keeps the evening in the same one track mode.The set by Anna Louizos, although decidedly tacky, makes arresting shifts that fold and shift with impressive ease to accommodate swift changes from the Rob’s apartment, to his record store, to a club, to the street and even to an upstairs apartment bedroom. However, when you leave the theatre thinking the set was the best part of the evening, something is dreadfully wrong.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
High Fidelity opened at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, on December 7, 2006. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit the box office