HIGH FIDELITY is playing the Hayes Theatre and spins the platters to give a very entertaining night out. Drawn from the movie of the same name from the book of the same name, it has a slightly overachieving pedigree. Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch, About A Boy) wrote the novel. The book of the musical is by David Lindsay-Abaire (Pultizer for Rabbit Hole), lyrics are by Amanda Green (Bring It On and the Jonathan Larson Award) and music by Tom Kitt (Pultitzer for Next to Normal). Why then did HIGH FIDELITY fail so spectacularly on The Great White Way?
As far as I can tell, it’s a matter of scale. Highway Run and Neil Goodings’ Productions’ version of HIGH FIDELITY works delightfully nestled in the bosom of the Hayes.
The protagonist of HIGH FIDELITY cares little for the big picture though. Rob is an insular record store owner where cassettes are for mix tapes and CDs are just a way through for independent artists. In this store where misfits seem to hang is Barry, a bear of a man who is Heavy Metal all the way with a seriously exciting wardrobe of T shirts. And there is an innocent of a bloke, unfortunately named Dick. Rob speaks directly to the audience to explain his life as it happens and to ruminate on the women who have previously ruined it. He, of course, was never to blame. Not even in his current situation with girlfriend, Laura.
Rob is played by Toby Francis with the disarming charm of a prettyboy man child. Francis pulls us into his circle with what appears to be an open and welcoming attitude to his version of his life. His charm is an attempt to distract from our judgement of his behaviour and even when full disclosure is required he foreshadows revelations with excuses and pleas for empathy. Francis has an endearingly cheeky sideways grin which allows us to understand how his mind works even if Rob doesn’t seem to. Francis allows his character to be winning without ever winning us over and this serves the plot and relationships very well. Damn but he is charming, even if fidelity is not high on his list of personal priorities.
He has more than a touch of the bad boy about him and we can see why Laura falls for him and why she is leaving him. As played by Teagan Wouters, Laura is intelligent and sensitive. While Laura might give conflicted a bad name, Wouters does endow her with enough strong character traits for Laura’s indecision and bad rebound choices to be knowable. Without this perhaps, the audience might be not emotionally open to the journey Laura will go on.
HIGH FIDELITY is a bit … I am loath to use the term but here we go … a bit chick litty. There may be 3 men at the heart of the story but director Neil Gooding has some pertinent things to say in his program notes. The women simply don’t let the blokes get away with repressive, emotionally stunted behaviour. Might be a great show for a first date … just sayin!
The other 2 men are Joe Kosky as Barry and Dash Kruck as Dick. These performers are such fun in the roles. Barry is a bro with hidden depths and his character is so expectable in context. Passionate, musically speaking, Kosky does a great job of keeping the unlikely Barry relatable. Dick on the other hand is written to be easy to warm to and Kruck has that in spades. There were definite aw’s in the row behind me when it was apparent that he had a minuscule chance of love.
Rounding out the quartet of blokes with whom the women have to deal is Ian, played by Nicholas Christo in a deliciously smarmy swami performance. The character doesn’t have anywhere to go much but that initial scene of his would be hard to beat anyway. He rides the cliché all the way to the ashram.
Zoe Gertz makes a good foil for Laura as a funny, athletically broad broad called Liz and the female ensemble of this show is just wonderful. They work so beautifully together as a team and the complexity of the choreography (Cameron Mitchell) has them on the front foot and enthusiastically able to back Rob into a corner.
One also needs to mention Erin Clare as Marie. Clare and Wouters have number, ‘Ready to Settle’, that requires an incredibly deft touch. It comes immediately after a huge, I want to stand up and call for an encore showstopper ‘Number 5 with a Bullet’ straight into a sweet and soulful ballad. And they pull it off completely. The audience as one just drops straight into the next emotion. There are so many moments in this production where heart and love are opted for over big and splashy.
That particular elision is just one example of the adroit directorial decisions in HIGH FIDELITY. I loved the energy and focus and the fact that pauses are built in and musical phrases are doubled up to allow for laughter and appreciation of emotion. Especially when Ian is around and for Barry’s story’s end.
The text itself, though terribly predictable for the most part, has been crafted by Gooding with close attention to this specific black box. One can see why it lasted less than a fortnight in 2006, a cavernous Broadway space feels wrong and song lyrics like “sloppy seconds” still don’t sit well. With me anyway. But the production has real intimacy and the flexible set allows room for big numbers and for a variety of levels.
The lighting is a very strong aspect of the production also. Not just to colour but to narrow the field of vision for the more romantic numbers and encourage the mood into place. The use of vibrant primary colours from the upstage is mitigated by the light lines around the doors and display walls. The latter are often a lovely lilac as contrast to the palette or soothingly in concert with the light lavenders of the romantic scenes. Disappointing followspot operation the night I attended but the emotional content is obviously working considering the number of tissues that kept appearing in the rows in front of me. I’m telling you fellas … date night!
Or if you are a music aficionado this is a show to make your synapses spark. It’s not just the guess all of me if you can wall mural and the abused ABBA on the doors. Or the Queen homage or the ‘play it again’ Humphrey Bogart style advice from Springsteen. I could even get those ones but I do have a slightly sore side from where my music-tragic friend kept nudging me when there were refs in the riffs.
Oops I forgot it was a musical for a minute. The voices are as fantastic as you would expect from this stunning ensemble, each an overachiever in their own right, and the live band under the always excellent Andre Worboys is equally terrific. A good sound mix kept the voices sitting on top but for those times when the band needed to kick ass, you could enjoy the bass and the drum through your feet. They are supplement by recorded tracks and it’s well worth staying in at interval for the nostalgia in the music.
And there is a cracker final surprise in the exit music as you hit the foyer after the show. Listen out for it because you really should see HIGH FIDELITY. Take a date!
HIGH FIDELITY continues to play at the Hayes Theatre, Potts Point. For more information visit: