|I think these things are supposed to be stairs, and that's after the gamma correction.|
The coolest thing about the Colonial Theater is the funky rectangular double-helix staircase that'll take you to either the mezzanine or the balcony. One set of stairs is carpeted red, and the other has black marble (I think it was marble) for flooring, so it makes for a dandy view while you're climbing them. Too bad there wasn't enough light in the place for a decent picture, but that's never stopped me before.
The strangest thing about the Colonial Theater was the old lady taking tickets. Nowadays of course the ticket takers just scan your ticket with their little thing-that-goes-beep and let you on your way, and that makes things a bit easier. I'd brought along the two Ticketmaster confirmation printouts and handed mine to the lady first.
"Did you print these out yourself?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered, feeling like it was one of those perfunctory questions like the security questions you get at the airport -- did you pack your own bags? Did anyone ask you to take something along with you? That kind of thing. Apparently it wasn't; the old lady just thought that was wicked awesome.
"Well, isn't that clever of you!" she said, then scanned the ticket with her thing-that-goes-beep and sent me on my way. Clem followed with her ticket, and had a brief conversation with the lady as well.
"What did she say to you?" Clem asked me once we were climbing the double helix stairs.
"She asked if I printed out these tickets myself, and I said yes, and then she said that was very clever of me."
"Huh," Clem said. "Cause when she scanned my ticket, she said 'So this is what he does while you're cooking!' and I had no idea what she meant by that."
I don't think either of us has figured it out yet, either.
So then we saw High Fidelity.
I'm going to assume you've read the story or seen the film or just don't care about it enough to read this without me having to go all vague for spoilers or go overly-explanatory for those who haven't seen or read it yet. To address the spoilers, well, the book's been out for 10 years and the film for six now, so honestly, I can't be held responsible if you have a vested interest in What Happens but haven't been bothered to actually find out at this point. SO THERE. NYER.
For those who don't know the story, it's all about a young scruffy thirtysomething named Rob (hey) who runs a record store (real records, vinyl records, for the serious collector who understands a record's worth) in London no Chicago no Brooklyn. Rob's a real music geek and so are his employees and the store's regulars (many of whom don't make much in the way of purchases), and so when Rob is dumped by his live-in girlfriend Laura (who takes up with Ian, their upstairs neighbor) he turns to a music geek pasttime for comfort, and compiles the Top Five "Desert Island" Worst Break-Ups of his life. Laura, he realizes, doesn't make the Top Five, and this gives him some solace until he starts falling further into introspection and self-analyzing and wondering why he's got all these breakups, and all this other stuff happens and it's all connected with music and people and, you know, things and stuff.
Sorry, ran out of gas there. Will promise to do better in subsequent paragraphs. -RRN
High Fidelity as a musical was much more entertaining than I had expected. It's lighter in tone than the movie, which in turn is lighter than the book. I mean, let's face it, the character of Liz is right, Rob is a Fucking Asshole. (It's much more clearly defined in Hornby's novel than it is in the other adaptations, but throughout, it's there.) But the audience likes Rob on screen because he's John Cusack and all, and when he's the one onstage breaking the fourth wall to narrate the goings-on during the musical and revealing his thoughts on his break-up with Laura (and admitting that yes, he is indeed a Fucking Asshole), the audience has inherent sympathy for him too.
Now what's strange to me is when a book is written in the first person, I don't automatically feel inherent sympathy for the narrator. It may take some time, given the character and author and setting and all, and sometimes it just doesn't happen at all. But when the first person approach is used either in film or on stage, that sympathy comes much more naturally to me, however deserved or justified it may be.
The music in this show is top-notch. Killer rock soundtrack. With a few exceptions, the lyrics don't take themselves seriously, they're rather clever and witty ("I Slept With Someone Who Slept With Lyle Lovett" opens the second act, for instance, and includes one Kevin Bacon game verse) and the score has some decent rock and pop songs going for it. The songs aren't as catchy as Avenue Q's or as much of a loving homage to a genre as Hairspray's 1960s pastiches, but they work. And the actor playing Barry channeled Jack Black so well, there's even a Tenacious D-like hooded robe musical number with tone poems and everything.
I was also surprised to see some of the film's iconic scenes played out onstage, especially the fantasy sequences. There's the Top 5 Worst Break-Up list song, featuring all five girls (each ex doubles as another character as well, which is an interesting way of splitting roles.) Ian visits the record store and gets some Conflict Resolution all upside his head, all right, in the form of three, count 'em, three musical numbers. Bruce Springsteen makes his fantasy visit in the second act to inspire Rob to get over his exes. The Boss suggests Rob get in touch with those Top Five exes for closure and a final "good bye and good luck." That musical number is absolutely Jersey-perfect. The Boss rises up in front of an American flag, roadies rush out to set up mic stands, Bruce and Rob are tossed identical red guitars, and they proceed to rock out E Street Band style. Yeah, that was a damn fine showstopper.
However, once that second act high is reached, the rest of the show falters. Rob's contact with his exes is played out in 60 seconds, tops, so that we may hurry to the Obligatory Getting Back Together scene. The cleansing act of "getting over" the exes is such an important character change for Rob, that getting it over with so quickly was incredibly unfair. We don't even hear responses from the exes other than quick jokes like "How'd you get this number?"
And then there was the bit about the money. Part of the reason why Rob's an asshole was because he borrowed several thousand dollars from Laura at the worst time and never paid her back. The musical cleans this up way too tidily, in the Getting Back Together scene (set at Laura's dad's funeral, by the way.)
Now there's no record label subplot in this stage show, which really does represent Rob's taking charge of things and growing up. Again, another key character bit is neglected. There's no Kinky Wizards business, either, and while the shoplifter is featured in the show, he isn't even properly confronted or caught. Near the end, though, he is referred to as "Klepto-Boy", so the guys at the store at least know what he's up to.
So how'd Rob get the money to pay Laura back? Oh, because he sold this Box Of Rare 45s (which we saw introduced in the first act, of course, which I immediately knew thanks to Chekov that by the second act it'd be
Barry? Obnoxious Barry? Wait, how'd Barry get the money to buy them when he's working at the same failing record store as Rob? It's never explained.
And why is the issue of the money the important part? It isn't. The Getting Back Together scene only seems to want to show that all Rob needed to do to get back with Laura is say "Here's the money I owed you from a long time ago" and sing a song (which, by the way, is the weakest song in the show simply because it takes itself seriously.) This, reasons the musical, is the crux of the problem. Rob's not a music geek with a Peter Pan complex, he's just a music geek who got dumped. In the book/film he's disappointed with his lot in life and worried about where he may or may not be headed with his career, love life, and how to grow up. In the musical, he just wants to get back with Laura and maybe that will mean just a teensy little bit of touching upon those other things, however briefly ("We just can't deal with the day-to-day", the music shop gang sings at one point during the opening number.) But really, the musical says, he just wants to get back with Laura so that's what we'll give him. Hoo-rah.
And that's a real disappointment, because things were going so well up until the end. The second act just unravels and the jubilation at the end feels empty. Barry performs a Marvin Gaye-esque soul number with his new band, yes, but does so at the record shop, apparently part of a deal that Laura offhandedly suggests just before the final number. Barry gives Rob the money back for the 45s, Rob lets Barry perform at the shop. Oh, ok-- what?
Way too tidy. (And when the finale involves just Barry and his two bandmates while the rest of the cast just hangs out, slow-dances and watches, it's doesn't feel like much of a finale, either.)
Speaking of tidy, I also thought the actor playing Rob onstage was a little too clean-cut for a grubby "ex-stoner, turned clerk and then owner of the last real record store on Earth." He needed to be scruffier, I thought.
But overall, the show was a lot of fun. I did have a good time and I really liked what I liked. And, truth be told, there were some changes made for the stage that helped; they expanded the role of Anna, quiet music geek Dick's girlfriend, and she even gets a good punchline or two. Anna and Dick's relationship (she likes Yanni, he, uh, doesn't) conveniently gives us one of the other lessons the book and movie make: "It's not what you like, it's what you are." The lesson is given quite sincerely by the two, and I liked that.
The cast all sang well except for one understudy who was overpowered by the music, the dancing was raucous and fun, the set design was very clever with rotating walls and trap doors and a split bedroom at one point and the clever re-use of set pieces (the stacks of vinyl in Rob's apartment, for instance, become stacks on the wall of the record shop.) Even just looking at all the albums in the store becomes interesting (there's the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, there's someone looking at The Who's Tommy...)
The show goes into Broadway previews in late November. It got fair-to-middling reviews in Boston, but it really could do much better than that. If they can just find a way to keep the second half of the second act from falling apart, it's really going to be a solid, fun, excellent long-running show with great music. It already is a fun show with great music, but the high won't last if the ending leaves 'em flat.
You'll notice I wrote that without one single "Top Five List" of my own. You're welcome.