Story: Rob Gordon is a walking encyclopedia of rock music. He’s so in tune with the sounds of his life that he has vinyl selections in his own independent record store categorized autobiographically. His Championship Vinyl shop is a haven for nerdy guys who like to browse through his legion of prized LPs, or maybe even work there as is the case with assistants Barry and Dick.
Rob’s personal life is much like the business side of his professional one, namely lacking in direction and growth. When his girlfriend Laura informs him she’s moving out he’s as much puzzled as disappointed. While Laura falls under the sway of former neighbor and self-anointed, spaced-out philosopher Ian, Rob is compelled by his reliable friend Liz to re-evaluate his life and determine what is necessary to keep a relationship with a ‘keeper’ like Laura in mint condition.
Highlights: New Line Theatre artistic director Scott Miller saw the beauty and buoyancy behind the weak Broadway effort that introduced High Fidelity as a rock musical in a disappointing effort that folded after just 14 performances in late 2006. Miller’s New Line Theatre mounted the first regional presentation in 2008, a glorious triumph that Ladue News cited as the best production of the year.
Since that sold-out run, Miller has been contacted by more than a dozen other companies throughout the country to secure production rights from the show’s creators, whose work is based on Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name. Now, New Line has brought High Fidelity back to its greatest success in a presentation that, if anything, is stronger and more engaging than its 2008 predecessor.
Other Info: While director Miller features a number of performers reprising their roles from the earlier rendition, including always affable Jeffrey Wright as Rob, this version appears to sport tighter ensemble efforts by its sterling supporting cast.
Rob’s “Exes,” e.g., are comprised of the wonderfully engaging and sprightly Terrie Carolan, Talichia Noah, Taylor Pietz, Sarah Porter and Chrissy Young. They cavort in delightfully sassy fashion to the clever moves designed by choreographer Robin Michelle Berger, accentuating the wonderful music composed by Tom Kitt (American Idiot) and lyrics written by Amanda Green of Avenue Q fame. They join Wright in making Desert Island All-Time Top 5 Breakups a delightful romp into Rob’s historic miscalculations with the ladies.
The guys are no slouches, either. A disparate group of aimless souls with monikers including Klepto-Boy, Futon Guy, Hipster and the dreaded acronym TMPMITW (The Most Pathetic Man in the World), they come to spirited life when handled with the aplomb of Nicholas Kelly, Keith Thompson, Ryan Foizey and Todd Micali, respectively.
Foizey and Micali are delightful as well doing their respective impressions of two of Rob’s main musical guys, Neil Young and The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, who magically appear to offer the thick-headed musical maven keen insight into winning the love of a fair maiden.
Wright’s smooth baritone is a perfect fit for the bevy of tunes crooned by Rob, including the rollicking opening number, The Last Real Record Store on Earth. He also has an agreeable, Everyman persona that importantly makes Rob more good-hearted than self-centered.
One of the basic charms of the entire show, in fact, is the old-fashioned, sweet musical core that is dressed up in modern sass and sensibilities. While the language can occasionally veer into vulgar realms, the heart of the story remains upbeat and sincere.
Mike Dowdy and Zachary Allen Farmer are humorous and goofily appealing as Rob’s painfully shy assistant Dick and the brasher but equally impervious Barry, respectively. Dowdy and Carolan are wackily entertaining as the record-store clerk and the bespectacled, determined, John Tesch-loving lass who captures his fancy.
Margeau Baue Steinau reprises her role as the small-time chanteuse who hitched a love ride with Lyle Lovett once upon a time and makes sure to mention that whenever possible. Aaron Allen captures the greasy qualities of goofy guru Ian, while Kimi Short effectively handles the role of the long-suffering and loyal Laura, even if the role seems under-written.
The New Line Band under the direction of pianist/conductor Justin Smolik has never sounded better, at a volume level that supports rather than impedes the performers. Smolik is ably joined by Mike Bauer on lead guitar, Aaron Doerr on rhythm guitar, Dave Hall on bass, percussionist Clancy Newell and second keyboardist Jeffrey VanDiver.
Kudos to props master Alison Helmer for filling Scott L. Schoonover’s fabulous, retro record-shop set with vintage LPs and even some prized 45s, some of which are emphasized in Donald Smith’s sound design. Kenneth Zinkl’s lighting complements the tone of the show and Amy Kelly’s costumes underscore the laid-back look for Rob, Dick’s T-shirt collection and Barry’s slacker style.
If you love rock music and feel-good stories, High Fidelity should top your charts.
Musical: High Fidelity
Group: New Line Theatre
Venue: Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton
Dates: June 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23
Tickets: $10-$20, plus discounts for students, educators and military and 10 free college seats set aside for every performance; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Jill Ritter Lindberg