Pictured (l-r): Miles Wirth, Michael Golliher, Austin Stang, Nate Graybill, and Scott Salem. Photo by Tiffany Schweigert.
Review: HIGH FIDELITY at The Barn Players
By Abigail Trabue
For fans of Nick Hornsby’s 1995 book HIGH FIDELITY, the 2000 movie adaptation starring John Cusak, which transplanted Championship Vinyl from London to Chicago, was a mostly faithful and well-received reimagining of Rob and his Peter Pan crisis. I know this because I dated a guy who thought HIGH FIDELITY walked on water, which in hindsight, should have been a major red flag as to where our relationship was headed.
Fast forward to 2006 and the theater world is gifted with HIGH FIDELITY – The Musical. With lyrics by Amanda Green, music by Tom Kitt and a book by David Lindsay-Abaire, who wrote RABBIT HOLE (and if you’re familiar with RABBIT HOLE, you’ll be floored Lindsay-Abaire couldn’t find a way to make HIGH FIDELITY’s characters even two-dimensional). This flat-toned story met with lackluster reviews when it opened and still hasn’t been able to make it to the top of the charts.
But knowing all of that, many companies continue to produce HIGH FIDELITY, so it must have something going for it right? Currently, Chicago has a successful remount playing at the same time Kansas City has a well-put-together production opening at The Barn Players.
Under the direction of Tiffany Coville-Schweigert, Barn’s HIGH FIDELITY gives it their all in trying to make sense of a script that gives us no real reason to give a damn about anyone on stage. The cast genuinely seems to be enjoying themselves inside Doug Schroeder’s set which makes excellent use of the space and clearly defines the worlds within each scene. Rob (Austin Stang) is an incredibly likable guy, and Stang has the vocal strength needed to carry the show, but we never really care about Rob’s problems, and we definitely don’t care about Rob and Laura (Brighton Gray) as a couple. Rob is never as ugly as needed in order to be the “fucking asshole” Liz (in a very funny turn by Cori Weber) accuses him of being, and Laura is so underdeveloped and lacking realistic responses to her situation that you kind of don’t care who she sleeps with, and you really don’t care when she has a major family loss rock her world.
The Laura problem sort of represents a much bigger problem with HIGH FIDELITY, though. The women are never given anything worth anything to work with in the script. And when we do see the female ensemble, choreographer Kelley Reitmeier gives them so much movement and it’s all underwhelming. Even Liz, the confidant and best friend of both Rob and Laura, isn’t given clear enough objectives to justify being in the show, and “She Goes” does her no service. At all. Not only is she completely upstaged by all that’s happening around her, but with cringe-inducing lyrics like “Now please don’t take this as mean-hearted/But are you on crack or just retarded?” she also gets to be insensitive, which is a shame, because she’s got the makings of a great side-kick role. Lyricist Green’s use of the word “retarded” is her way of using a mental disability to call Rob stupid, which is not only absolutely amateur, it’s obviously offensive. Perhaps the point is that it was OK to say that in the nineties? I’m not sure, but we are smart enough to know that is not even close to appropriate now, and it’s unbelievable the authors have not struck that line from the song.
So, did I mention this cast gives it their all? Because they do. And while I’ve spent a lot of time telling you what I don’t like about the script, I should stress that this is not the fault of the actors on stage who give 100%. Not to mention the production scores a hit with several design elements. I appreciated the rock and 90’s inspired costumes designer Kim Thompson put on this 18-person cast, and there’s plenty of nostalgia on stage in the form of an old cassette stereo system, band posters and an impressive amount of records inside Championship Vinyl (kudos to properties designer Em Loper). Music Director Delano Mendoza pulls some pretty solid harmonies out of this large cast, the highlight being Rob and fantasy Bruce Springsteen (Nate Graybill) in the second act. And, yes, you will laugh, the show has funny moments. The “rewind” scene is probably the comedic highlight of the night, even if the musical genre’s represented are unbelievably cliché. Without being too much like Jack Black, Jeremy Walterman hits on some funny moments as Barry, and unlike everyone else in his world, never takes himself too seriously.
And maybe that’s the problem with Rob and Laura and their “number five with a bullet” romance? It wants us to take them seriously, but the writers seem to be confused by what serious means, and how best to translate that to the stage.
HIGH FIDELITY runs through March 19th. For more information visit thebarnplayers.org.