Rob Gordon’s relationship is falling apart. He lives in a crummy apartment and his greatest achievement in life is the collection of 45s hes been amassing since the age of seven. Hes the owner of a record store with zero growth potential, but it’s still the last real record store on earth, and Rob (David Light) wouldn’t change a thing about it. Now reread that last sentence and hum the quotes as if they were song lyrics, because that is exactly what they are.
Based on Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel, which served as the inspiration for the 2006 Broadway version and most recently Mark Selby’s highly entertaining adaptation, High Fidelity: The Musical made its Canadian premiere at Hart House this past Friday and had no shortage of songs to accompany the timeless tale of life, love and mix tapes. Unfortunately, the amalgam of songs was actually too excessive, and instead of enhancing the central plot, the music overshadowed it and bumped the storyline into a subordinate role. Characters were breaking into song every few moments, which squandered any room for potential conversations (I know you must be asking yourself whether I’m aware of the fact that this is a musical, and I am), and though a scene may have called for a musical digression or two, it became slightly tedious when more than a few of the songs were reprised.
Having said that, Tom Kitt’s music was nonetheless amazing and was strengthened by Amanda Green’s hysterically melancholic lyrics that had the audience in fits of laughter (“I’ve had the best/Now I need a rest/Just someone who’ll do/And I’m ready to settle for you”). Led by Lily Ling, the band provided flawless instrumental sections while the cast delivered truly exceptional vocals, made all the more difficult by choreographed segments and continuous movement around the stage.
Light’s performance was extremely engaging; he constantly addressed the audience with his thoughts and top five lists (most notably his top five break-ups, in which the heartbreakers joined him on stage as he told the audience the back story), a style no doubt inspired by John Cusack’s monologues into the camera in the 2000 film adaptation. Yet Light brought something entirely of his own to the character, and despite the selfish and cruel things his character has done in the past, Light’s charm and endearing personality gained the support of the audience within moments of his taking the stage.
Carl Swanson’s portrayal of the adorably nerdy Dick was another of the production’s most entertaining elements, winning the hearts of all in his attempts to impress the girl he likes and evoking many laughs with his signature song, “It’s No Problem”. Other notable performances included Jamie Arfin as Laura, the betrayed girlfriend of Rob, whose newfound empowerment shone through in Arfin’s rendition of “Number Five With a Bullet”; Jason Zinger’s comical portrayal of the weirdly spiritual Ian, Laura’s rebound, who also handled Kurt Cobain’s intervention; and James Ostime’s hilarious depiction of TMPMITW, the most pathetic man in the world.
The ensemble worked together in perfect harmony and had the audience clapping to the beat right along with them in the second-to-last closing number, “Turn The World Off (And Turn You On)”, a moment that really made the musical one to remember. Yet by far the most memorable instance was the confrontation between Rob and Ian, in which Rob’s desire to beat up and kill Ian was acted out, only to have the actions played out in reverse to suggest the sequences were only in Rob’s mind. The easiest way to visualize the amazing spectacle would be to think of a movie being rewound, where the characters move in a backwards progression, and the difficult execution of these sequences by the actors and actresses was made even more realistic by the flickering lights and tape-rewinding sound effects. It’s not really meant to be explained. It’s just one of those things you have to see for yourself. High Fidelity: The Musical runs until January 30 at Hart House Theatre. Visit www.uofttix.ca for tickets.