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High Fidelity

This affable musical based on Nick Hornby's novel is sure to entertain some fun seekers and especially young men. logo
Kirsten Wyatt, Anne Warren, Jenn Colella, Will Chase,
Caren Lyn Manuel, and Rachel Stern
in High Fidelity
(© Ralph Larmann)
There's one way in which the new Broadway musical High Fidelity is groundbreaking. Most traditional musicals open with what show-biz mavens call the "I want" song. The hero arrives, announces emphatically what he or she wants and thereby secures sympathy for the next couple of tuneful hours. But the affable High Fidelity -- which has been adapted from Nick Hornby's novel by librettist David Lindsay-Abaire, lyricist Amanda Green, and composer Tom Kitt -- shatters the mold. Instead, it kicks off with an "I don't want" song. Brooklyn-based protagonist Rob (Will Chase) , a slacker-like record store owner, actually sings the words "I wouldn't want to change a thing!" In this insistence on the status quo, he's quickly joined by his sidekicks/employees Barry (Jay Klaitz) and Dick (Christian Anderson).

The declaration, however, raises a troubling question: If Rob doesn't want to change anything, why are we here? Little that follows answers the query to complete satisfaction, because High Fidelity is a lot like Rob. It doesn't really want to change a thing. Instead, it wants to get by with a little help from Rob's vinyl collector friends, with as many energetic songs as Kitt and Green can muster, and with enough shifting sets (Anna Louizos), street-cred costumes (Theresa Squire), and busy lighting (Ken Billington) as can be rounded up. It's also basing its blatant commercial hopes on Chase's allure as Rob, who eventually does want one thing: to win back Laura, his former girlfriend (Jenn Colella).

More than anything, High Fidelity is counting on the ratcheted-up sound by Acme Sound Partners. Yes, this one's aimed with extra-special decibel care at the 18-34 male demographic, as is evident from the blasted chords that introduce each of the two frenetic acts. And the truth is that if and when these dudes show up, they're going to be extremely entertained. They're going to hoot at a second-act number wherein Rob imagines different versions of what he'd like to do to Ian (Jeb Brown), the man for whom Laura left him. The rock-concert-like cheerers will get truly wired when Rob fantasizes a killer hip-hop demise for Ian -- and his enthusiastic cronies throw themselves into the revenge scenario.

A few other of the Kitt-Green songs also have significant appeal: Rob's "Nine Percent Chance," Dick's "It's No Problem," "She Goes" (in which chum Liz, played by Rachel Stern, admonishes Rob for his negative girl-appeal), "Turn the World Off (And Turn You On)" (in which Barry and his back-up duo conjure The Temptations), and Rob's "I Slept With Someone," which is merely a 21st-century rewrite of the 1930's ditty, "I Danced With a Man Who Danced With a Girl Who Danced With the Prince of Wales."

While hurtling from number to number, the tuner, which has been directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, certainly doesn't build any noticeable suspense. As Rob dallies with songstress Marie LaSalle (Emily Swallow) and recalls his desert island top five break-ups (he's big on top-five lists), there's no doubt that he'll eventually reunite with Laura. The reconciliation would be less predictable had Lindsay-Abaire not written Ian as a long-haired, guru-influenced cliché. He isn't like that in Hornby's novel. Nor, incidentally, is Hornby's Rob-Laura reconciliation as tidy as the musical has it.

Chase, who scored last year as the main John Lennon in Lennon, is affable and believable as an Everyjerk --- and he gets the required rock grit into his numbers. But he encounters the same problem John Cusack had splitting the screen with Jack Black in the 2000 film version. Cynical-tongued Barry steals his scenes, and Klaitz does Black one better by tossing in a cartwheel. Colella looks good but doesn't have much outstanding to sing, Anderson is nerdily adorable, Kristen Wyatt as Dick's crush, Anna, is button-cute, Stern is a bundle of welcome dynamite, and Brown, looking like Donny Osmond's 8x10 superimposed on George Michael, does commendably in a thankless role.

The top five reasons to see High Fidelity? There are maybe only three, but they could be reasons enough for many eager and less-discerning fun-seekers.

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