Saturday, June 9, 2012

HIGH FIDELITY • New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre has revived High Fidelity after giving this musical its first regional premiere in 2008.  Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, High Fidelity suffered a short life on Broadway, but New Line's artistic director, Scott Miller, has a thing about reviving Broadway flops.  Seeing the potential and the heart at the center of this rock musical, he and his trusty crew at New Line gave it a new life then, and it's even better this time around.

Rob (Jeffrey M. Wright) is a rock music aficionado and owner of a record store, Championship Vinyl.  He values few things more than his treasured collection of records, and Rob has his favorite music categorized biographically, from his first school-boy crush to his more recent heartbreaks.  He, along with his pals who work with him at the store, have a definite musical preference.  Sex Pistols = Yes.  John Tesh = No.  In the winning opening number, "The Last Real Record Store on Earth", we learn that he's just been dumped by his live-in girlfriend Laura (Kimi Short).  This latest breakup has moved Rob to examine his dating history, and Liz, (Talichia Noah), a mutual friend of Rob and Laura's, checks in on him from time to time to try to help him get his priorities in line, although he does end up stalking Laura's new hippie boyfriend, Ian (Aaron Allen) and has a hilarious rap-style revenge fantasy.

Aaron Allen (Ian), Zachary Allen Farmer (Barry),
Jeffrey M. Wright (Rob) and Mike Dowdy (Dick). 
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
He also gets some advice from conjuring up a couple of his heroes, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen (a very entertaining Ryan Foizey and Todd Micali).  Rob, along with his buddies, socially awkward and sarcastic Barry (Zachary Allen Farmer), and shy, self-conscious Dick (Mike Dowdy), all suffer some overdue growing pains during the course of this sincere,
contemporary coming-of-age tale.  
Under Miller's perceptive direction, just about every aspect of the show seems to have been brought up a notch, and Jeffrey M. Wright's portrayal of our hero Rob Gordon (one of many wonderfully reprised roles from 2008), has matured.  Although Rob isn't always the nicest guy, Wright gives you the full spectrum of a relatable, everyday guy, with heart, authenticity and charm.  Hearing him sing isn't hard on the ears, either.  He is also complimented nicely by Kimi Short's Laura.  She handles a role that doesn't seem as fleshed out as Wright's, but she delivers her scenes in a way that makes you want to root for her, as well as Rob.

Kimi Short in front (Laura), Terrie Carolan, Chrissy Young,
Talichia Noah [hidden], Sarah Porter and Taylor Pietz.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.

Talichia Noah makes a great truth-telling Liz, and Margeau Baue Steinau has a great turn as the barely famous singer Marie LaSalle, very proud of the fact that she has slept with Lyle Lovett.  The female and male choruses of High Fidelity are bulked up from the last St. Louis showing, and Terrie Carolan, Taylor Pietz, Sarah Porter, Chrissy Young and Talichia Noah make a full impact when they add their voices to the show's first number.  The male chorus, Keith Thompson, Nicholas Kelly, Todd Micali and Ryan Foizey also give knock-out performances.  Whether the ensemble members are record store employees, guys and girls who hang out there browsing the wares, or are among Rob's "Top 5 Breakups", they're always lively and interesting to watch -- a definite New Line Theatre trait.
Keith Thompson, Ryan Foizey, and Todd Micali.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
Scott L. Schoonover's scenic design is eye-catching, featuring strewn cassette tape, hanging albums and LP covers, and walls of cassette tapes and CDs.  It immediately sets the mood when you walk in.  Amy Kelly's costume design and Kenneth Zinkl's lighting design also make fine contributions, and Robin Michelle Berger's choreography fits perfectly with the music.  Under Justin Smolik's musical direction, the New Line Band sounds fantastic.
It's playing until the 23rd.  Check it out for some great songs, great performances, and a very good time.
Jeffrey M. Wright in front (Rob), Sarah Porter,
Chrissy Young, Taylor Pietz, Talichia Noah
and Terrie Carolan.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.

Book by David Lindsay-Abaire
Lyrics by Amanda Green 
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Scott Miller
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through June 23 | tickets: $10 - $15
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm
Jeffrey M. Wright (Rob), Kimi Short (Laura), Zachary Allen Farmer (Barry), Mike Dowdy (Dick), Aaron Allen (Ian), Talichia Noah (Liz), Terrie Carolan (Anna), Margeau Baue Steinau (Marie LaSalle), Ryan Foizey, Nicholas Kelly, Todd Micali, Taylor Pietz, Sarah Porter, Keith Thompson and Chrissy Young.
Scenic design by Scott L. Schoonover; choreography by Robin Michelle Berger; costume design by Amy Kelly; lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl; sound design by Donald Smith; stage manager, Trisha Bakula.
The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Justin Smolik; lead guitar, D. Mike Bauer; rhythm guitar, Aaron Doerr; bass, Dave Hall; percussion, Clancy Newell; second keyboard, Jeffrey VanDiver.

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