Review: HIGH FIDELITY: A Mixtape of Middling Music and Stellar Cast at Arizona Repertory Theatre

Up Next: NEW DIRECTIONS FESTIVAL on April 29, 30, and May 1.

By: Apr. 24, 2022

Review: HIGH FIDELITY: A Mixtape of Middling Music and Stellar Cast at Arizona Repertory Theatre

HIGH FIDELITY had its first incarnation as a novel by Nick Hornsby, a British author who writes about unglamorous men and their parochial obsessions. It takes a savvy novelist to turn a stodgy archetype into a work of art, which the book has become, such that Hollywood saw its potential for a movie 22 years ago.

While the film developed a cult following, composer Tom Kitt had preceded Hollywood's vision, but for a different transcription. He partnered with lyricist Amanda Green to create a musical version of the novel.

The central allure of every iteration is Hornsby's self-absorbed protagonist, Rob, a 30-something owner of a vinyl record store who suffers from a deficiency of emotional refinement. The first-person narrative gives us a torrent of insights into Rob's pedestrian existence and relationship complications induced by his lack of accountability. Hornsby endows Rob with self-deprecating wit and a listless regard for social norms that we end up liking the guy anyway.

So now it's a rock musical - a serviceable one, befitting a talented cast of triple-threat college performers. The show didn't garner the critical acclaim necessary for a substantial Broadway run, closing after 18 previews and 13 performances. Notwithstanding its modest shelf life, HIGH FIDELITY, the musical, retains the integral charm of Hornsby's storytelling. The characters are amusing enough to keep us engaged.

The obvious flaw, to me at least, is Tom Kitt's mediocre score. It's ironic, given his own initiative to launch an ambitious project. It's a respectable attempt to ascribe the pastiche of his popular influences, from Talking Heads to The Who to Springsteen (who makes a funny cameo appearance in Act ll).

To be fair, one of the best instances of any musical satire is a ballad from the show, "Ready To Settle." I'm especially fond of "I slept With Someone (Who Slept With Lyle Lovett)" and the audacious finale: "Turn The World Off (And Turn You On)."

Mind you, Tom Kitt is no slouch for a musician, who deserves his Tony and Pulitzer for NEXT TO NORMAL and his Grammy for JAGGED LITTLE PILL. HIGH FIDELITY was an honest exercise in his gradual rise to prominence, but not quite up to the charge of a book on encyclopedic arrogance about contemporary music.

Lukewarm though I sound about Tom Kitt's score, I'd be remiss in ignoring what makes the Arizona Repertory production soar and prevail. Clearly, we have in our backyard a stellar musical theater program to rival some of the nation's most reputable institutions. Director Hank Stratton helms a large and dynamic ensemble with clarity and verve, utilizing the round with a functional precision that no thought is ever wasted on what might have gone differently in a proscenium setting.

Review: HIGH FIDELITY: A Mixtape of Middling Music and Stellar Cast at Arizona Repertory Theatre

The show was suitably cast. Vinney Pugliese captures the halfhearted disposition of Rob, a smart ass who isn't mean, stubborn but teachable. Hannah Peyton is an understated and intelligent Laura. As Rob's dispirited girlfriend, she leaves him to "find herself," disillusioned by his insecurity and obscure sense of relating.

Threatened by the reality of her new partnership with Ian (excellently played by Michael Laverde), Rob begins to recount his top-5 breakups (not counting Laura) in an effort to get her back while shedding light on his defective patterns. He works with a motley crew of also-rans, content with their insular identification as music snobs who betray their own loneliness. Daniel Altamirano is most memorable as the acutely bashful Dick (gorgeous tenor range).

Review: HIGH FIDELITY: A Mixtape of Middling Music and Stellar Cast at Arizona Repertory Theatre

Notable performances abound: Ben Tyrell as the abrasive and impetuous Barry, Madelyn as the faithful, no-nonsense friend Liz; Alex Bruckner as Marie LaSalle, and Patrick Ryan in the splendid dual role of The Most Pathetic Man in the World and Bruce Springsteen. The rest of the large ensemble is uniquely accomplished, individually, and seems to get the significance of rapt presence no matter the size of the role. That's a sure sign of excellent training.

Pianist and Music Director Jamie Reed leads an impressive live band, her most recent outing in a solid and extensive career as a teaching artist. Christopher Mason's lighting design provides some exquisite changes, at times quite dramatic without getting in the way of the action (lighting a musical in the round is ambitious and mildly frustrating). Because of the round, scenic design is restricted to versatile set pieces that move and conjoin, thanks to Kensey Coleman's foresight. Rounding off the crew behind a spectacular output are Christie Kerr as choreographer and Matt Marcus for sound design.

HIGH FIDELITY is the penultimate offering in a highly diverse season by Arizona Repertory Theatre and Next Performance Collective. Up Next: NEW DIRECTIONS FESTIVAL on April 29, 30, and May 1. For more information, visit