HIGH FIDELITY packs 'em in in Chicago
August - October 2009
By HEDY WEISS
High Fidelity," the musical based on Nick Hornby's popular 1995 novel (set in London) and Stephen Frears' 2000 film (set in Wicker Park), opened on Broadway in 2006 and lasted for just 14 performances. But past performance is no indicator of current success.
Watching director Peter Amster's fully rocking, high-energy, ideally cast (and somewhat revised) Chicago premiere of the show -- now in a Route 66 Theatre Company production -- you get a sense the musical has not only found its proper scale and hometown feel, but that this hugely talented cast (a few of whom double as first-rate instrumentalists) was born to bring this material to life.
The story, of course, is about a group of latter-day Peter Pans, classic slackers whose arrested development is manifested by their obsession with rock 'n' roll, extreme social awkwardness and low self-esteem. The score is the work of composer Tom Kitt (whose music is a zesty pastiche of pop styles) and lyricist Amanda Green (daughter of fabled Broadway lyricist Adolph Green), whose clever, funny lyrics would have made her dad smile, most notably in "Number Five With a Bullet," "9% Chance" and the dual "morning after" songs, "I Slept With Someone."
Yes, there's a time warp feeling to it all, and it runs a bit long. But it is laughably recognizable. And the superb musicianship and goofy relationship comedy is just great fun.
Front and center here is Rob (the richly musical, easily natural Stef Tovar), the thirtysomething owner of a financially challenged independent record shop, whose more adult girlfriend Laura (the classy Tricia Small) has just left him (briefly hooking up with a guru type played by Michael Webber). That leaves him surrounded by the nerds who call his shop home (priceless turns by Michael Mahler, who also serves as co-musical director with Diana Lawrence, and by Jonathan Wagner, Derek Hasenstab, Kevin Crowley, Ian Paul Custer and drummer Jim Barclay); by the memories of his five ex-girlfriends (adorable Blair Robertson; hard-hearted Christin Boulette, and Katie Jeep, Maggie Chambers and Kelly Maier, all expert "backup singers"), and by the couple's spicy go-between Liz (a very funny Dana Tretta). Growing up becomes a necessity.