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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

'High Fidelity' (The Musical) Turns Me On


How can you not like a show that features a song called "I Slept With Someone (Who Slept with Lyle Lovett)"? I wasn't that familiar with the musical version of the 2000 film, High Fidelity, starring John Cusack as the owner of a Chicago used record store who tries to win back the girl he loves. I remember liking the movie, which I think was the first time I really noticed actor Jack Black as Cusack's scene-stealing co-worker. It's an amusing film that I can certainly relate to, since I've spent many hours in used record stores over the years. And last night I became a fan of the musical based on it as The Route 66 Theatre Company of Chicago presented a free staged reading of High Fidelity at The Mercury Theatre (a groovy little space on the hip Southport strip, which has undergone a total facelift since I lived near there 20 years ago). According to their webpage, the company is an ensemble of creative artists committed to producing theater in both Chicago and Los Angeles, and their mission is to "cultivate dynamic, relevant and provocative stories that bridge the 2,448 miles of cultural divide." Well, I certainly think they accomplished this with their High Fidelity reading. It was definitely dynamic and provocative--although it does feel like a nostalgic piece of work that is firmly set in the year 2000 (references to the defunct Coconuts music store and John Tesh's co-host stint on Entertainment Tonight, which ended in 1996, are still funny--but not relevant--in 2009).

The musical had a dismal debut on Broadway in 2006, lasting only 14 performances. Ben Brantley of The New York Times called the show one of the "All-Time Most Forgettable Musicals", and he seemed to dislike it mostly because he found it bland and the characters not obnoxious enough. I would have to strongly disagree with his review, although it's quite possible that the Broadway production was very different from what I saw on stage last night. An Amazon customer says that the musical was "badly misdirected" on Broadway, but I'm happy to report that this was not the case in Route 66's reading, which was exquisitely directed by actress Michelle Duffy (who was also fabulous as Laura in the show). My only complaint with her direction is that the character of Anna didn't stand next to her new boyfriend, Dick, at the end of the show, which could easily be fixed whenever they mount a full production. And that was the purpose of the reading--to get potential producers interested in helping them "put on a show." If I were a rich man, I would give the company the money they need to stage a full production because I would love to see it again. And it wouldn't have to be much different from the reading; they could do it like the successful and stripped-down revival of Chicago. High Fidelity doesn't need a fancy set--although the only Tony nomination the show received was for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. The musical is about the quirky characters and the catchy songs--and, Mr. Brantley, the character of Barry is very obnoxious (but I loved him by the end of the show).

I was so impressed by Route 66's reading. Artistic director Stev Tovar was perfect as the lead character, and I was rooting for him and Duffy to reconcile (they had definite chemistry on stage). And the supporting cast was amazing, especially Michael Mahler as the sweet, shy Dick, Angela Ingersoll as the feisty Liz, and Larry Adams as the hilariously self-involved Ian. But the most impressive performance was by Jonathan Wagner in the Jack Black role of Barry. He was okay--and obnoxious--in the first act, but in the second act with his wonderful Bruce Springsteen impression and his first-rate rendition of the final song, "Turn The World Off (And Turn You On)", the actor stole the show--and my heart (I don't want to marry the guy, but I do want to see his Barry again someday).

I'm surprised that High Fidelity was such a big flop on Broadway with its witty book by David Lindsay-Abaire and delightful tunes by Tom Kitt and Amanda Green (the talented daughter of actress Phyllis Newman and lyricist/playwright Adolph Green). It must've been the direction of the show--or else the cast wasn't as top-notch as the one I saw perform the show last night. So, if you are a Daddy Warbucks with some extra cash lying around--or maybe you know one--I highly recommend that you check out The Route 66 Theatre Company and consider donating a few dollars or more to their High Fidelity venture. Trust me, they're damn good--and their production of the show deserves to reach a much wider audience. And I really want to see Mr. Tovar dance again like Courteney Cox does in the 1984 music video of Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark".

You can contact Route 66 at (773) 308-6927 or at stef@route66theatre.org.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, it looks like the show might be happening. Keep a look out...

Deep Dish said...

That's GREAT news! Please keep me posted.