Lloyd Marken is a freelance writer with a passion for the arts who has been published with Scenestr, Heavy, Buzz, X-Press, FilmInk and Weekend Notes. Visit my blog at https://backtothedrawingboardproductions.com/
High Fidelity seems doomed to repeat the cult success of the records its characters obsess over. The story and characters are just too alternative and messy to ever be a mainstream hit and yet true fans love it for what it is. The rest of us remain outside as if looking through a shop window, sure it looks good inside but we'd rather just go to our regular place.
The story is a classic man-child rom-com; Rob Gordon played by William Boyd really needs to get his proverbial together. He's going nowhere work wise with his record store, he's lost passion for anything in life, constantly lives in the past and now his girlfriend Laura (Katya Bryant) has dumped him.
He's at a point in his life where he's justifiably feeling sorry for him but that's always hard to make ingratiating on stage and then he's surrounded by several loud and entertaining side characters in the form of fellow music obsessives Barry (Lachlan Clark) and Dick (Isaac Tibbs), mutual friend shared with Laura – Liz (Carly Wilson) and Laura's new beau I-A-N played by Bradley Chapman.
The 2000 film adaptation got around this by casting the lovable John Cusack arguably at the height of his powers. Boyd gives it his all but you find yourself still rooting for those side characters more. It should be said then that the self-confessional monologues is handled well by the actor and he sings pretty good in a variety of genres suggesting his musical prowess was a key feature of his casting. Some early numbers get drowned out by percussion in the band but as Rob matures before us Boyd too grows in stature.
In a move away from the source material, the eponymous five ex-girlfriends appear on stage for a few numbers but their backstories are told in passing. Also, Laura who appeared so confused and a little selfish in the film, here is far more reasonable. She breaks up with him for the best of reasons, recognises Ian for what he is pretty early on and rather than engage in random funeral sex finds herself drawn back to Rob for the right reasons too. Katya Bryant does a great job of conveying all of this and has a great number in Number 5 With A Bullet.
It should also be noted the shyer record store employee Dick's romance with the John Tesh loving Anna is brought to life well by Tibbs and Lauren Conway. Bradley Chapman as Ian presents shades of Tim Robbins and Dr Evil to great comic effect. Instead of repeating Jack Black's style, Lachlan Clark looks and sounds like a cooler T.J. Miller and once again make Barry a stand-out part of the show.
As a musical High Fidelity is a mixed bag with competing priorities. Some songs feel boring and staged big but with no real pizazz to it. In the ensemble of dancers there a couple whose movements are more clearly defined and strong with obvious classical training. If the idea is not to have them be great dancers because that matches the setting and look of the show then why go big at all? If its parody of old school musicals then the joke doesn't come off.
It works far better when the songs are more connected to the emotional truth of the scene or the sensibilities of the setting. Take for example Number 5 With A Bullet where Rob is in heartache over Laura hooking up with Ian and showcases an imagining of an orgy with all his exes. The choreography and staging appear more well thought out and stylistically appropriate to the aesthetics of this world. Conflict Resolution follows much the same path but with even more imaginative steps. I Slept with Someone/Lyle Lovett and Laura, Laura also come at peak emotional moments.
Sure it's fun hearing the inspiration of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen in some songs (complete with an inspired touch of having Courtney Cox get pulled up on stage again) but they don't touch the emotional catharsis of the finale's Turn The World Off (And Turn You On) complete with disco mirror ball lighting up the auditorium.
Given the show feels a little long maybe one or two songs could get chopped in a new version. You could cut some of the subplots but all of them prove so charming it's hard to imagine parting with one.
By focussing on the relationship between Laura and Rob at the centre of it instead of the ex-girlfriends and making Laura a more realised character there is a lot to recommend in the new High Fidelity. There's plenty of visual gags and subplots that delight and some good songs. The only criticism right now would be it needs some tightening.
It turns out sometimes a song does play better if you cut it down to 3:05 but then as Rob would argue you lose some of what made it special when you do that.