“It’s no problem, Rob. At all.”
Saturday night I had the wonderful pleasure to take in a local theater’s production of High Fidelity. If you haven’t heard of this show, don’t worry you’re not alone. The show opened on Broadway in 2006 and played a total of 13 performances (and 18 previews).
My first exposure with show happened a few months ago, when (no surprise here) Aaron Tveit performed the second song in the show, “Desert Island Top 5 Breakups,” at one of his concerts.
The song is GOLD. It’s incredibly funny, powerful, and relatable to anyone who has gone through a break up as an adult. Think quickly about your top 5 break ups and you’ll get the feeling of the song.
Fascinated, I decided to look up the show and listen to the cast recording. I was blown away by some of the songs, not to mention the star-studded cast containing Will Chase and Jenn Colella.
The show starts off with Rob, letting us in on what is currently happening in his world. Laura, his girlfriend, is leaving him….at least…she might be. He’s confused on whether or not this was just a threat, or if it was meant as a more-permanent statement.
We find out in addition to Laura, Rob owns the “last real record store on earth,” which is the location of the opening number. Read the full plot here.
Now, before I make any statements about the things I liked/disliked, I need to say that I know community productions are not meant to be professional-quality shows. However, I do believe that they have the ability to have a cohesive mold and tell a story effectively when the pieces are put together in the correct way.
I’ll start with the criticisms first, since on the whole, the production was excellent.
From the start of the opening number, it was clear the ensemble would be a distraction from the storytelling. As with some local productions, there are people on stage who really understand what it means to perform, and those that don’t. When both groups of people are on stage together, it creates quite the disconnect for the audience.
Ensemble members’ acting aside, my main problem with the show was the choreography. The cast was small, 17 people total, and the less people on stage, the easier it is to see when they are not dancing in sync.
It was impossible not to notice and be drawn away from the storytelling when watching the dance numbers, and honestly, the writing of the show does a good of taking the audience out all on its own.
I’m going to put this out there – the show is weird. Rob goes back and forth between talking with the other characters and then talking to the audience. The weirdness reminded me of Catch Me If You Can, which was plagued by the same issue – writing that tried to be clever but effectively took you out of the story instead of drawing you in.
For this very reason, I was impressed by the actor who portrayed Rob (Elliot Owens) and how he handled those transitions. For this show to work, the lead actor has to command the stage and somehow make the audience not hate him.
Elliot primed the crowd to feel the cognitive dissonance throughout the show. At first you’re sympathetic to Rob and his loneliness, but you’re also left wondering what could have been so bad that Laura would have left.
This feeling is only deepened when Rob’s friend Liz, portrayed by a fantastic actress (Jessica Plummer), drives the point home that every woman Rob has loved has left him. Through this interaction with Liz, we come to find out that Laura is staying with Ian, a weird healer type that loves tofu and having sex for hours.
A massive shout out to the actor portraying Ian (B. Jason Ouellette). That role requires a presence of self and an ability to remove yourself and become the character. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing during “Number 5 with a Bullet” when he entered the stage.
Speaking of “Number 5 with a Bullet,” let’s talk about Laura, shall we?
Oh Laura, Laura. I had very high expectations for this role, because Jenn Colella is an absolute beast. And Cady Hickman did the role justice. Unfortunately, her performance in the power number was overshadowed by the distracting choreography. But in every other number, including “I Slept With Someone,” she shined and maintained a good chemistry with Rob.
When talking about chemistry, we have to mention Rob’s sidekicks, Barry and Dick. Both of the actors (Dale Byrd and James Middleton, respectively), portrayed their characters perfectly. I was drawn to Dick’s character the most. He provided a lot of comedic relief, and his acting when he was on stage but not the star was second to none.
The set design was also very clever, with rotating pieces that transported you from the record store, to the apartment, and then into a neutral location when necessary. As a musician, I also need to shout out the Pit, which shared the stage with the actors and were dressed in band t-shirts – the drummer wins with ACDC.
For every fault of the show’s writing, for every time a mic screeched (there were a few), for every messed up step of choreography, I would see this production again.
The show is funny and serious, and at the end I left laughing, and wishing I could see it again.