Thursday, 11 September 2014

High Fidelity, Sept 11, 2014 **

Music by Tom Kitt; lyrics by Amanda Green; book by David Lyndsay-Abaire; 
Based on the best-selling novel by Nick Hornby; presented by Pursued By Bear
At Chapel off Chapel, from Sept 11 to Sept 21, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: **
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri Sept 12 and later in print. KH
Scott Mackenzie, Russll Leonard, Liam O’Byrne

After the popular book and movie about a bloke who runs a record store stuffed with obscure vinyl discs, a third life as a musical seems an obvious step for High Fidelity.

High Fidelity –The Musical emphasises the cynicism of Nick Hornby’s original, 1995 novel rather than the perkily charming nostalgia of the John Cusack movie from 2000.

Unfortunately, David Ward’s production lacks finesse with its messy direction, uneven acting and vocals, awkward design and confined stage space that pushes the actors to the very front of the stage, restricting the sight lines to zero in some scenes.

The greatest asset is the tight, 10-piece band under musical director, Frankie Ross, but Ward unwisely secretes the band behind a curtain in the back corner of the cluttered stage.

Brooding, 30-something Rob Gordon (Russell Leonard) is a musical elitist so blinkered and obsessed with classic and obscure music that he runs a Brooklyn record shop, Championship Vinyl, that has no paying customers.

Instead, it has plenty of weirdoes such as his two co-workers, painfully shy Dick (Liam O’Byrne) and loudmouth Barry (Scott Mackenzie), and other denizens of the store including TMPMITW, “The most pathetic man in the world” (Tom Russell).

When girlfriend, Laura (Simone Van Vugt), dumps Rob unceremoniously, he pursues her relentlessly and idiotically or spends his time cataloguing his records, making mixed tapes – yes, cassettes – or devising “Top Five Lists” of everything from favourite discs to worst break-ups.

Tom Kitt’s music is intentionally derivative, reflecting Rob’s musical obsessions by channeling the eclectic styles of Springsteen, Aretha, Talking Heads, Beastie Boys and more.

Amanda Green’s lyrics are often acerbic and funny with clever lines such as, “I slept with someone who handled Kurt Cobain’s intervention”, and, “If you hate mass market, bring your ass and park it.”

David Lyndsay-Abaire’s book is structured around Rob’s running, internal narration as he struggles to evolve into a functioning adult from a self-absorbed man-child whose jaded, critical view of the world stops him from participating or growing up.

This musical could probably be entertaining identification theatre but it crashes and burns in large part because Russell, playing the crucial role of Rob, sings painfully off-key in almost every song. This is unforgivable in a musical.

There are a few cheering performances including Van Vugt singing Laura, O’Byrne’s duet, It’s No Problem, with his dorky girlfriend (Alexia Brinsley), and a cameo by Springsteen.

The high point of the show is the finale, Turn The World Off, sung by Mackenzie as Barry with his bonkers band that is “experimental with pop sensibilities”.

Hi Fi is sadly Low Fi in this poorly pitched production that needs some radical re-staging and recasting.

By Kate Herbert

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