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St. Louis by Richard Green

High Fidelity
New Line Theatre

Also see Sarah's review of The Producers

High Fidelity
Aaron Lawson, Jeffrey M. Wright and Zachary Allen Farmer
The stars are in perfect alignment for the regional premiere of Tom Kitt and Amanda Green's musical, based on the novel by Nick Hornby. Director Scott Miller has put together a fine cast of actors and singers (in an interesting new venue), to stage the lives of young men in a used record shop, and the women who love them. Individually, and in delightful groups, they blaze through a series of power ballads, make-up songs, break-up songs and more, covering musical idioms from the soulful sixties to the acrid eighties.

Jeffrey M. Wright is a human dynamo, smoothly carrying the weight of the show as Rob, the owner of Championship Vinyl, and Kimi Short is wonderful as his long-suffering girlfriend. Both sing terrifically, with Mr. Wright giving his all on his 11 (frequently gut-wrenching) songs over the course of two hours. Wry humor crackles, thanks mostly to Zachary Allen Farmer and Aaron Lawson as Barry and Dick, his record store sidekicks, and Robb Kennedy is horrifically funny as the ghastly anti-Rob, full of new-age pretensions and romantic over-confidence, like the "flip-side" of a 45 rpm record that's suddenly more popular than the "hit-side."

Five additional performers play two or more roles apiece, and these pairings add to the "A" and "B" side motif in the libretto by David Lindsay-Abaire. Andrew T. Hampton does a very good Neil Young impression (in one of his multiple roles); but perhaps the most startling case of split personalities belongs to Todd Micali as both "The Most Pathetic Man In The World" and a major rock and roll star, who shall remain nameless at this time. Thanks to him, and director Miller, those two roles could not be more different, and your eyes will just about pop out of their sockets over Mr. Micali's full-throated turn as a certain rocker from New Jersey.

Director Miller sets up every scene with style, humor and clarity, and choreographer Robin Michelle Berger keeps the dancing simple and believable, though a girls' chorus busts a move every now and then with free-spirited ferocity and fine musical harmonies as all of Rob's old ex-lovers. The newest member of that cohort, Margeau Baue Steinau, is excellent as an ultra-creepy Lyle Lovett groupie. Katie Nestor is delightful as another one of the boys' girlfriends, disarmingly sweet and unselfconscious. My only regret is that Mr. Wright, in the central role, never really gets a chance to show off his own fine dance skills. But then again, it's mostly a play about awkward guys who love music, and (singing in a variety of idioms) he certainly proves himself more than equal to the gigantic task at hand.

Chris Petersen runs the agile, six-piece New Line band and, with their help, the evening flies by. Critics of the recent movie and the subsequent Broadway musical seemed to seize upon the mere quirkiness of these slacker-esthetes, adrift in a sea of post-adolescent angst, as the main thrust of the evening. But the intimate confines of the Hotchner studio theater at Washington University serve them well, helping us focus on small tragedies and moderate evils, raising them to a grander scale. A bigger stage, or a more dazzling theater would merely wage war on an intimate story like this. Instead, in these pleasant, bare-bones surroundings, High Fidelity finds a perfect setting.

Through July 5, 2008, in the Edison Theater building, in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theater on the campus of Washington University. Beginning in September, the company plans a move to the university's new South Campus theatre, in the old CBC High School at 6501 Clayton Rd., opening with the rock musical Hair. For information call Metrotix at (314) 534-1111 or visit them online at www.NewLineTheatre.com.

Cast
Rob: Jeffrey M. Wright
Laura: Kimi Short
Dick: Aaron Lawson
Barry: Zachary Allen Farmer
Liz/Jackie: Nikki Glenn
Ian: Robb Kennedy
Anna/Alison: Katie Nestor
Marie LaSalle: Margeau Baue Steinau
TMPMITW/Bruce Springsteen: Todd Micali
Futon Guy/Skid: Patrick Donnigan
Klepto-Boy: Joel Hackbarth
Hipster/Neil Young/Skid: Andrew T. Hampton
Charlie: Mary C. Crouch
Penny: Amanda Densmore
Sarah: Lori White

Crew
Director: Scott Miller
Choreographer: Robin Michelle Berger
Stage Manager: Trisha Bakula
Lighting Designer: Michael Bergfeld
Set Designer: David Carr
Costume Designer: Amy Kelly
Sound Designer: Steve Massey
Props Master: Vicki Herrmann
Set Construction: John and Suzanne Carr
Lighting Technician: Trisha Bakula
House Manager: Ann Stinebaker
Box Office Manager: Vicki Herrmann
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy

The New Line Band
Piano/Conductor: Chris Petersen
Bass: Dave Hall
Lead Guitar: Mike Renard
Percussion: Mike Schurk
Rhythm Guitar: Jim Shiels
Keyboard: Marc Strathman


Photo: Michael C. Daft


-- Richard T. Green

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