BWW Review: HIGH FIDELITY by Minneapolis Musical Theatre
HIGH FIDELITY only played 13 regular performances on Broadway. It was an official flop that Ben Brantley called one of Broadway's "all-time most forgettable musicals." Based on a 2000 film and 1995 book by the same name, but not the same critical status, the musical has only been produced by a handful of theaters since. Minneapolis Musical Theatre (MMT) specializes in rarely done musicals and has turned this "flop" on it's b-side by producing it inside an iconic record store. This stroke of genius is probably what the original production was missing.
You see, the story centers on Rob, the owner of Championship Vinyl -- yes, a record store. MMT Artistic Director Christian Unser said, "Almost immediately, we wondered if it would be possible to actually do the show in a record store. Obviously, our first choice was the Electric Fetus." Known for hosting live music performances, the record store owners didn't hesitate to invite the theatre troupe in for the three week run. This site-specific performance works so well it's hard to imagine that no one else has done it before (maybe they have but I see no evidence of that online).
A little storyline: When Rob (Taras Wybaczynsky), who is a top-five list freak, is dumped by his girlfriend Laura (Jorie Ann Kosel), he retreats inside his record store with his co-workers Dick and Barry to figure out what went wrong. Along the way he revisits his "Top Five Breakups" -- complete with the ghosts of girlfriends past -- gets some advice from Bruce Springsteen and learns a few lessons about life, love and the power of music along the way.
The action all happens around the check-out counter and a couple aisles of the store. A four-piece rock band lead by Amanda Weis (music director, keyboards) jams from a platform next to the counter and the remainder of the set are spots built up on the two aisles and a few wooden crates to help boost the view of the performers as audience members stand around the store's rows of records, movies and CDs with cast members working their way in and out of the crowd, flipping through merchandise and responding to the action on the counter. The Fetus' natural surroundings are all the set you really need. Director Sara Pillatzki Warzeha orchestrates the 14 member cast around the racks of records and mostly stationary audience members in a way that ensures you can catch most of the action no matter where you're standing.
The cast, whom are mostly newcomers to the MMT stage, are all perfectly suited to their characters. Wybaczynsky's Rob is a complete jerk to Kosel's Laura, but he's so engaging and charming that you really don't care. Store employees Dick (Maxwell Ward, complete with eyeliner) and Barry (Cameron Reeves) are exactly the guys you'd expect to see judging others' musical tastes in any given used record store.
The musical numbers are a mixture of pop sounds straight out of the late 90s/early 2000s; though you get the feeling the vinyl snobs in the store wouldn't listen to the original cast album of their own show. Rob questions in one, "Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" which struck a cord as a girl who grew up listening to 80s pop love songs that were either totally describing my feelings of teen angst or making me a teen with angst. Needless to say, I recognized that line. I digress. The music was fun, if not memorable, and easy to listen to; plus, the band and mic levels were perfectly set for the environment. Kudos to Audio Designer Abe Gabor.
Setting this show inside the Electric Fetus was just what it needed, even though it was a bit hard to stand the entire two hours (no intermission). If you go, be sure to wear comfy shoes. The natural setting for this first-person telling of Rob and Laura's love story, break up and eventual reunion (spoiler: it's a rom com) was entirely a great idea and a fun night of theatre that may not have had the same magic inside a theatre.
With two more weekends and only six shows of roughly 75 patrons, order your tickets fast if you want to see this rare show which could be the first, but maybe not the last inside Electric Fetus. (By the way, the parking lot is still open despite the freeway and Franklin Ave. Bridge construction. And, bonus: you can shop the store after the show.)
Visit http://www.aboutmmt.org/high-fidelity/ for tickets and info. Show closes May 20.
Photo: Electric Fetus, by Kristen Hirsch Montag