Friday, June 20, 2014

Slow Burn Theatre: High Fidelity (reviews)

Slow BurnSlow Burn Theatre Company opened its production of High Fidelity at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater on June 13, 2014.
Book by David Lindsay-Abaire (Shrek the Musical, Good People), lyrics by Amanda Green (Bring It On: The Musical), and music by Tom Kitt (next to normal, If/Then). Based primarily on the Nick Hornby novel rather than the subsequent film version it inspired, the plot focuses on Rob Gordon, a Brooklyn record shop owner in his thirties obsessed with making top five lists for everything, always observing rather than participating in life. When his girlfriend Laura leaves him, he goes through a painful re-evaluation of his life and lost loves (with a little help from his music) and he slowly learns that he has to grow up and let go of his self-centered view of the world before he can find real happiness.
Patrick Fitzwater directed a cast that included Robert Johnston, Sebastian Lombardo, Noah Levin, Bruno Vida, Nicole Piro, Courtney Poston, Abby Perkins, Christina Flores, Sandi M. Stock and Kaitlyn O’Neill.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Like a scruffy stray found on the streets with little promise of being housebroken, Slow Burn Theatre Company’s summer musical production of High Fidelity shouldn’t be so appealing and downright winning. But it is.  The sense that the energetic cast and creative team seem to be having this much fun should enchant most anyone open to a summer lark.
Director/choreographer Patrick Fitzwater’s affection for the show obviously inspired the rest of the Slow Burn team.
Johnston …delivers an appealing and affable fulcrum for the show, a notable achievement since you often want to shake Rob by the shoulders and tell him to get a clue.
Piro… has a clarion singing voice and a charisma that makes the audience why Rob would ever do anything to mess up their romance. When she appears as a hot fantasy figure in Rob’s dream forcing herself into Rob’s list of five memorable breakups, she scorches the stage with “Number Five With a Bullet.”
The supporting cast has standouts as well. Levine, a stalwart in smaller theaters as well as Slow Burn, is hilarious as someone you want to strangle.
O’Neill, another Slow Burn vet, nearly stops the show with her rendition of a folky post-breakup lament “Ready to Settle”…
Lombardo throws himself completely into Barry’s self-involved crass attitude. Unfortunately, he is battling the indelible career-making performance of Jack Black in the film. He admirably tries to create a character distinctly different from Black, but you miss the incomparable Jack.
As always, Manny Schvartzman, doubling as music director, did a solid job leading the band…
Rick Pena again gave the cast note-perfect costumes
John Thomason reviewed for Boca Mag:
OK, so I should say up front that High Fidelity—both the Nick Hornby novel and the Stephen Frears cult film—is too important in my life to judge its musical-theater adaptation with any degree of objectivity…  I saw myself in it; I’ve been making esoteric Top 5 lists since I could count, not to mention I’m the kind of obsessive vinyl collector… So it was with much anticipation and trepidation that I sat down for Slow Burn Theatre’s production of the High Fidelity musical last weekend… It’s with great relief that I approve of the final product.
This is a pretty terrific production of a fun, if maddeningly boxy, show… Tom Kitt’s jaunty and eclectic music, beautifully arranged by Manny Schvartzman, is supplemented by lyrics from Amanda Green that pivot around key phrases from Hornby’s novel and twist them cleverly into rhymes. Rick Pena’s costumes are mostly spot-on, with his combination of unflattering geek-garb, punk-rock accouterments and slacker couture effectively capturing the look of the record shop’s denizens—not to mention a perfect Bruce Springsteen ensemble for actor Larry Buzzeo, who does a dead-on Boss impersonation late in the show.
…we get to see more of Noah Levine’s hysterical interpretation of the patchouli-scented vegan. I didn’t even mind that Ian never becomes anything more than a caricature; Levine is having such a great time that it doesn’t matter.
In one of the strongest scenes in the production, Rob and Laura wake up at the beginning of Act 2 in different strangers’ bedrooms—Laura with Ian and Rob with Marie—and their subsequent duet “I Slept With Someone” points to a chasm of regret that doesn’t exist in the original material. Piro, whose performance seems almost out of joint in the beginning of the musical, shows us how good she is in this moment; over the course of the song, we watch her entire world view gradually fall from elation to something like shame and embarassment. When Rob and Laura are finished singing, both are in the same “bed,” in their minds if not their realities, adrift yet connected.
As for Johnston, he’s terribly young to be playing Rob Gordon, and I just couldn’t accept his midlife tally of fractured relationships or even his recent one with Laura, played by the more age-appropriate Piro. But what can I say? The guy can clearly sing, dance and act, and he seems to have a genuine understanding of who Rob Gordon is.
JW Arnold reviewed for South Florida Gay News:
Even though the show material has plenty of shortcomings, co-artistic directors Patrick Fitzwater and Mathew Korinko, music director Manny Schvartzman and their young, vocally talented cast give the production their best efforts.
Robert Johnston… has to do most of the heavy lifting in the show. He’s front and center in virtually every scene and gives an appealing performance as the lovelorn Rob, a likeable guy who is negotiating his path to maturity right in front of our eyes. (Doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes, too!)
Larry Buzzeo provides much needed comedic relief in two supporting roles, first as a middle-aged customer referred to by the record store staff as TMPMITW (The Most Pathetic Man in the World) and later, Bruce Springsteen. Yes, The Boss.
Talented local choreographers are few and far between and Fitzwater always brings fresh perspectives to stage movement that stand out from the crowd. Throughout the show, his ‘80s and ‘90s dance moves — with a few hip hop moves thrown in — complemented the music and were well executed.
Lance Black’s Lighting Design – Lighting is crucial for a complicated storyline that includes flashbacks and breakouts and Black’s design effectively makes these changes clear to the audience.

Rod Stafford Hagwood wrote for The Sun Sentinel Stunned Senseless:
Boca Raton’s Slow Burn Theatre does a credible job with “High Fidelity the Musical,” giving the show an injection of youthful bounce and vibrant vocals. And the six-member band adds some flash to the score by Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal,” “If/Then”) and Amanda Green (“Bring It On: The Musical”) that dabbles in all kinds of genres from rock and soul to coffeehouse folk and gangsta rap.
There are some terrific turns by supporting cast members: a scintillating Nicole Piro as the love interest; a sharp bit by Kaitlyn O’Neill as a folksinger; Larry Buzzeo as a nebbish customer and a brash Bruce Springsteen; and Noah Levine as the show’s closest thing to a villain, a holier-than-thou holistic guru.
Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
Director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater likes to lighten up for the summer after several darker musicals in season, putting his young cast through their athletic paces and never letting on that the show may not be top-drawer.
Rob’s shabby treatment of Laura should be enough to turn off the audience, but book writer David Lindsay-Abaire gets us on his side by having him narrate the show and address the audience directly. It also helps that Robert Johnston has an easygoing charisma in the role, immature but hard to hate.
Willowy blonde Nicole Piro, a Slow Burn veteran, is sufficiently alluring as Laura... Things must have really been bad with Rob if she would leave him for a creepy, pretentious guru wannabe like Ian (played with sly glee by Noah Levine). Fitzwater’s discovery for this production is Sandi M. Stock... who comes on strong with “She Goes.”
Bruno Vida... makes a vivid impression... Larry Buzzeo amuses as a fantasy Bruce Springsteen.. Kaitlyn O’Neill has fun as a morose folkie singing the downbeat “Ready to Settle.”
The show’s chief failing is its surface-deep, too glib writing, but High Fidelity was never very profound. It is, however, easy to identify with these characters and become involved with their dilemmas, and that’s not bad for a musical comedy.
Slow Burn Theatre Company presents its production of High Fidelity at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater through June 29, 2014.

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