A Hollow Bone

It's not easy living without High Fidelity these past 48 hours. It's like I'm Rob and Laura has just walked out on me. I try to comfort myself with other show tunes, but I still find myself playing Hi-Fi in the car. I try to tell myself I'll be fine, that I'll be in rehearsal for Hair next week and all my post-production depression will be behind me. But deep down, I know it's all a lie. Just a big, cruel lie. Hi-Fi is going to be with me for a while. And yes, in case you're wondering, High Fidelity is definitely on my Top 5 List now. And it won't even have to do a slutty, Pat Benatar number to secure its spot.

So currently, my Desert Island Top 5 New Line Musicals are:
  • High Fidelity
  • Hair
  • Floyd Collins
  • The Robber Bridegroom
  • Bat Boy
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Songs for a New World
  • The Cradle Will Rock
  • A New Brain
  • Sunday in the Park with George
Yes, I'm well aware there are ten musicals on that list. So fuckin' what? If Rob's list of Top 5 Things He Misses About Laura can have ten items, then so can my list! (Sometimes I wonder if anyone's Top 5 list of anything really has only 5 items...)

Last night, Aaron and I watched a bootleg video of the original Broadway production of High Fidelity, something I had not seen since months before we started rehearsal. I remember thinking that I didn't much like it when I saw it last. I didn't think the director and designers understood the material. But watching it again last night, from a different mindset, made its chilly New York reception a lot more comprehensible.

Now, having worked on the show, having poured myself heart and soul into it, having written one of my infamous chapters about it, having worked so hard at finding the truth and the soul in this beautiful writing, having been through all of that, watching the original production made me want to go out and kill an interventionist. It just wasn't good. I now understand why the New York reviews were so terrible, and why so many people were so outraged that this was how High Fidelity was adapted for the stage. I think if I had seen the Broadway production first, before hearing the CD or reading the script, I probably would not have wanted to produce it.

What was wrong with it? Where do I begin?

First of all, Walter Bobbie's original direction was terribly misguided. It was like he was doing a different show than the writers were. Every actor raced through their lines like they were on crack. I'm not exaggerating -- I don't know if I've ever seen a show performed so fast! Some of the actors delivered their lines in almost a Joe Friday monotone, others played so far over the top that they became caricature instead of character. It was High Fidelity in the style of A Flea in Her Ear. God help the Broadway theatre if this is what they do to brilliant, original material now.

Dick, Liz, Anna, TMPMITW, and several others became nothing more objects of mockery instead of real people. The audience laughed at these characters, never with them. And strangely, Marie LaSalle, who should be batshit crazy, was played totally normal and bland. And that's such a shame when you're working with a script and score this smart, this subtle, this emotional, and this original.

And the choreography! Every number was standard-issue, assembly-line Broadway dance, like something out of The Full Monty or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The songs weren't rock and roll numbers. They didn't look like rock and roll and they didn't move like rock and roll. Tom Kitt and Amanda Green wrote this brilliant score in which every song evokes one of Rob's favorite music artists, but all that went out the window. It felt like the director and choreographer didn't even try to understand what the show's creators intended; they Knew How to Make a Broadway Musical, and they weren't gonna let the "concept" get in the way...

Some of the choreography was so bad I actually threw up in my mouth a little. (Okay, that's not really true, but you get the idea...)

I think what surprised me most was that the director apparently didn't understand that the whole show takes place in Rob's head, even though the dialogue makes that fairly explicit. Most of the show was staged (and designed) like a standard-issue musical comedy, and for the few songs that couldn't work that way, they expended huge amounts of effort justifying the nonreality with special effects, sound effects, stage tricks -- none of which would be necessary if they had just bothered to figure out how the show is supposed to operate. No justification is necessary if you know that this is all in Rob's head, because then the only limits are those of Rob's imagination.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of the production was the obvious lack of affection for the music at the heart of this story. Several of the numbers mocked the artists that inspired the songs, rather than paying tribute to them. And no offense to the actors, but none of them knew how to sing rock and roll; they all had these brassy Broadway voices. Springsteen didn't sound like Springsteen, Aretha didn't sound like Aretha -- every actor sounded like they should be singing Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Oops, just threw up in my mouth again.) No one on stage seemed to really love pop music. And if you miss that, what's the point?

This is a show written by people who obviously love music deeply and who understand these characters and this sub-culture. The high quality of the show's writing has been proven by the incredible reception it received here in St. Louis by both audiences and critics. Unfortunately, the people putting the show together on Broadway did not seen to share that deeply held love of pop music, they didn't understand these characters, and this sub-culture was utterly foreign to them. I recently read an early draft of the show and I can see from the video that many four-letter words were cut from the script in New York (most of which we kept in). More proof that the Broadway production staff (and/or the show's producers) didn't "get it."

After seeing the bootleg, I realized why Amanda Green had been so happy with our production. We treated the show with respect, intelligence, heart, joy. We let it find its own pace. We didn't try to hide the pain or the ugliness of the story. We didn't worry about offending people. We just tried to find the heart, the soul, and the truth of the show. And though that ought to be the agenda every single time a piece of theatre is staged, sadly, I don't think it usually is.

I don't think I've ever said this before, but I can say it now with some confidence -- I think our production was better than the original. And apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so.

So a Big-Ass Bravo to the company of New Line's High Fidelity, and my eternal thanks to Tom Kitt, Amanda Green, and David Lindsay-Abaire. I couldn't be prouder of this show, and I owe the entire cast, staff, and band my gratitude for proving me right -- this was worth bringing back to life!

Long Live the Musical!