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NY Theater Reviews

Photo: Joan Marcus

Tone Deaf

By Joanne Kaufman

By rights, a Broadway show whose very name is a musical reference ought to have a really satisfying score...

By rights, a Broadway show whose very name is a musical reference ought to have a really satisfying score.  But you know what: let's lower the bar a bit. Wouldn't it be appropriate for that show-whose record store owner protagonist judges people by their taste in music-to have at least two or three  knock-out songs. Okay, maybe one.  Okay, one good song. Okay, once decent song. Okay, at least one hummable song. Okay, okay, okay, at least song that stays with you until the next scene change.  Ah, well.

The regrettably low-impact "High Fidelity" an adaptation of Nick Hornby's best-selling novel, itself the source material for the 2000 movie with John Cusack, stars Will Chase as Rob, a thirtysomething Brooklyn slacker (the book was set in London, the movie in Chicago)  whose passion for making "top 5" lists is matched only by his distaste for making like an adult.

His live-in, fed-up lawyer girlfriend Laura (the woefully underused Jen Colella) has just walked out on him seeking refuge with a sleazy neighbor (Jeb Brown) Their split is Rob's obsession, and the preoccupation of "High Fidelity" whose music-a gloopy blend of pop, rock, rap, folk, heavy metal and country -is by Tom Kitt and whose lyrics were supplied by Amanda Green, daughter of the late lyricist-librettist Adolph Green. Readers (and listeners) will doubtless be satisfied with a few sample couplets:  "I left you with a broken heart/ you pissed me off and that's not smart"  and "You paved the way to romance/when you kept her out of your pants." 

It's true that Rob isn't an especially likable character. That's ok. Neither were Pal Joey, Billy Bigelow or Sweeney Todd.  But as played by Chase, Rob isn't much of a character at all.  His motivations are murky at best. But the script as cobbled together, (seemingly thrown together) by "Fuddy Meers" playwright David Lindsay-Abaire with all the best lines taken  verbatim from Hornby's novel doesn't give the actors much to work with.

They do work gamely, however, particularly Jay Klaitz as Barry, the itching-for-a-fight record story clerk played in the movie by Jack Black and his confrere Christian Anderson, the cappellini-skinny, nerdy Dick, who loses his heart to a girl whose musical tastes run to-gasp-John Tesh.  Rachel Stern, as Rob and Laura's tough-talking friend Liz seems to be channeling Rachael Ray; she belts out her number in a fashion that "American Idol" apparently made popular if not obligatory. Regrettably, she, everyone on stage, enunciates very clearly.