Based on 1995 novel by Nick Hornby
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics by Amanda Green
Book by David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed and Choreographed by Peter Amster
Route 66 Theatre Company
Musical Rocks in Chicago Opening
The New York version may have bombed, but that will certainly not be the case with the vigorous Chicago premiere of High Fidelity.
In New York, the show was mounted in a vast 1,300 seat-theater. In Chicago, we have the intimacy of Piper’s Alley in the same theater where Tina and Tony formerly romanced and wed.
According to Stef Tovar, Artistic Director of Route 66, High Fidelity is also now a tighter, edgier story. In New York, the show focused on the break-up between the Rob, the 30-year old owner of the Championship Vinyl record store, and his lawyer-girlfriend Laura. In this Chicago production, additional emphasis is placed on the two store clerks: Barry (Jonathan Wagner) and Dick (Michael Mahler).
With these changes and others which included casting talented Tovar in the role of Rob, and skillful and appealing Tricia Small for Laura, this new rendering of the rock musical certainly presents a recipe for success.
In this comic, spirited production, lists are a recurring theme. Rob sings about the five top vinyl recordings of all times. Later, he presents his five top romantic breakups — with Sarah (Christin Boulette), Alison (Blair Robertson), Jackie (Katie Jeep), Penny (Kelly Maier), and Charlie (Maggie Chambers). Laura, he claims, doesn’t even make these top five.
In another neat, outrageous parallel, Rob in bed with entertainer Marie LaSalle (Boulette) brags that he is sleeping with someone who slept with Lyle Lovett. Meanwhile, Laura, across the stage in bed with beatnik, longhaired, middle-aged psychologist Ian (Michael Webber), sings that she is sleeping with someone who held a Kurt Cobain intervention.
During a confrontation between rivals Rob and Ian, the actors repeat the same scene – in various versions – four times. With gathering intensity, each enactment shows what Rob would really like to do to Ian – including murder. The actors are sidesplitting each time they reverse their movements, unwinding to begin again.
Dana Tretta nearly steals the show as Laura’s best friend and confident Liz who runs through the set, shouting epithets at Rob, while wielding a huge, blue exercise ball.
No matter how slim the chances, hope never dies. Rob sings that he has a 9 percent chance of winning back Laura (and he only needs 91 more). Barry builds on the refrain with his 1 percent chance of forming his own band, and then Dick picks up the song, realizing that his percentage on getting a girlfriend is probably .000001.
Throughout, the tunes are lively and the music is loud, raucous and in your face. The well-constructed set with the cluttered record store in the center, flanked by bedrooms, supports action which is also enhanced by the use of two large wall screens showing memories, wishes, and close-ups. Nothing is subtle in this broad comedy. In this high energy, multi-talented cast, Mahler plays keyboard, and guitar, Wagner plays guitars, keyboard and harmonica, Derek Hasenstab strums a bass, while Jim Barclay beats the drums. Everyone sings.
In 2000, High Fidelity was made into a highly successful film staring John Cusack. In keeping with an emphasis on lists: Empire magazine voted High Fidelity the 446th greatest film in their “500 Greatest Movies of All Time” and it is also ranked #14 on Rotten Tomatoes‘ 25 Best Romantic Comedies.
Reviewed by Beverly Friend
At Piper’s Alley Theater, 1608 N. Wells St., Chicago, IL. (312) 664-8844, tickets $29.50-$39.50. Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4:30 and 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. through Oct. 11. Running time is 2 hours, including intermission.
EDITOR’S NOTE: My Top 5 Reasons to recommend High Fidelity:
1. Stev Tovar’s totally honest and spirited performance.
2. The terrific actors and musicians lead by Michael Mahler, Jonathan Wagner, Derek Hasentab and Jim Barclay
3. The terrific comic work from Michael Webber
4. The humor and high energy of the show–no one takes themselves too seriously
5. The show is a real value at $29.95 – $39.95 per ticket