Rock ‘n’ Rollin’ on the River: “High Fidelity,” at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre through June 26
Written by: Thom White – River Cities Reader
While you may know the film version starring John Cusack, the musical (though Americanized) more closely follows the original novel by Nick Hornby. In this stage version, Rob Gordon owns a record shop in Brooklyn, which has several browsers but few buyers. Obsessed with making top-five lists (top five break ups, funeral songs, worst duets, etc.), Rob’s self-centered life is shaken when his current girlfriend leaves him, forcing him to look within to figure out why his relationships don’t work and what really makes him happy.
Stinson handles this musical with a concert flair, most notably with the placement, in several numbers, of backup singers along the rear of the set (designed with edgy, hole-in-the-wall-rock-store style by set designer Kenneth Verdugo). Rob, played by Brian Cowing, also sings directly to the audience at times, as if performing songs for them concert-style. Cowing, whose effeminate exuberance was the humorous highlight of the Showboat’s recent Altar Boyz, plays this one much more straightforward, with detached emotions appropriate to Rob’s self-absorbed nature. While his upper register is most pleasing, Cowing also impresses with his guttural rock vocals, similar to the sounds of Guns N’ Roses. (It’s worth noting that the show’s songs are written to sound like songs from pop, rock, and R&B artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to the Indigo Girls to Percy Sledge.)
Stinson’s production is an exceptional ensemble effort, with a sense of energy and community among the cast members that lifts the spirit of the show. Individually, Nicole Ferguson shines brightest as Rob’s recent ex-girlfriend, Laura, in the dream sequence number “Number Five With a Bullet,” which allows her to set her inner sexpot and rock goddess free. Nattalyee Randall, who brought down the house with the final song in the Showboat’s Nunsense earlier this month, does so again with her soulful rendition of “She Goes,” a song about Rob’s repeated failings in love. (And one I can’t get out of my head three days after hearing it.)
Trish Hubbard stole my attention in every scene in which she portrays the pre-teen Rob’s 12-year-old girlfriend, Allison. Dressed several years younger than 12, in one of designer Becki Arnold’s clever costuming choices, Hubbard actually plays a caricature of a child, bopping her head with dimple-faced smiles, and looking so cute – and so out of place – in this adult-themed song about breakups. (Hubbard also offers a sweetly subtle turn as Anna, a record-shop patron shyly interested in one of Rob’s employees.) Eric Chambliss tackles several roles with gusto, embodying the New Age-ian Ian with an ethereal but self-important attitude, and taking on Bruce Springsteen not with an exact portrayal, but one close enough – and lively enough – to make that not even matter.
I could go on and on about each cast member’s impressive performance, from the smaller portrayals of Trenton Fuller’s Tough Guy with Mohawk and Cole Rauch’s adorably dorky T.M.P.M.I.T.W. (The Most Pathetic Man in the World) to Brian Bowman’s too-sweet-for-words hanger-on Dick; each and every cast member brings something notable to the stage. My favorite, however, is Joseph Feldman as Rob’s condescending-music-snob employee Barry, a wannabe band member who can’t play any instruments yet thinks his musical tastes are superior to everyone else’s. Feldman throws such energetic humor into the role, though, that his Barry is a likable jerk, and his attitude of superiority is amusing; the actor steals scene after scene with his playful smirks and dismissive gestures.
While High Fidelity is the third show in Showboat’s current season, it’s only the second performance each for this summer’s group of actors. Considering the talent that every single one of them is bringing to the stage, I can’t wait to see what’s to come at Clinton over the next two months.