Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"High Fidelity" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at Electric Fetus

High Fidelity, the Broadway flop musical adaptation of the 2000 film (it ran for 32 performances only), is the perfect choice for Minneapolis Musical Theatre, whose motto is "Rare musicals. Well done." They have a knack for bringing out the best in a show and staging it in a way that works. So they're staging High Fidelity, which mostly takes place in a record store, in an actual record store! And an iconic Minneapolis record store at that - Electric Fetus. Maybe this show didn't/wouldn't play well in a traditional theater space, but in this intimate site-specific space that makes you feel like you're part of the story, it's a unique theatrical thrill. With a fantastic and hard-working 14-person cast, a rockin' band, and great use of the space, it's a sure-fire hit. With only six more performances and limited space, act fast so as not to miss out on the fun! (Click here for more info and tickets here.)

High Fidelity (book, movie, and musical) is the story of Rob, the owner of "The Last Real Record Store," and his trials and tribulations in love, life, and friendship. His girlfriend Laura has just broken up with him, prompting him to list his "Desert Island Top 5 Breakups," insisting that Laura doesn't even make the list. But you know he's in denial, and he's deeply affected by this relationship and its end, sending him down a road of self discovery and growing up. He's surrounded by a quirky group of friends, employees, and customers, including Barry who's trying to start a band and Dick who's trying to get up the nerve to ask out a customer he likes. They're all very endearing people, portrayed with great charisma (and serious pipes) by the entire ensemble, the kind of people it's a joy to spend two hours with on a Sunday evening (even if you have to stand for said two hours until your back aches).

Amanda Weiss, who's appeared onstage with MMT, here takes up a place behind the keyboard, music directing and leading the awesome four-piece rock band. I was surprised at how much I liked the score, which covers a wide variety of musical styles. But I shouldn't be; the score was the first score written by Pulitzer and Tony winner Tom Kitt (for one of my favorite musicals Next to Normal), with clever, funny, and sometimes poignant lyrics by Amanda Green. I'm tempted to download the OBC recording (featuring Will Chase and Jenn Colella, why did this show close so early?!).

Laura (Jorie Ann Kosel) and Rob
(Taras Wybaczynsky, photo courtesy of MMT)
The character of Rob is kind of a jerk, he's very set in his ways, he doesn't treat Laura very well. But as portrayed by Taras Wybaczynsky you can't help but like him and root for him. He's a fantastic leading man with a great voice, with whom you're happy to go on this journey. When I first saw him in The Secret Garden at Artistry last year I wrote, "a welcome newcomer to the Twin Cities theater scene whom I look forward to seeing on stages around town in the coming years." Still true (take note casting directors!).

The supporting cast is terrific too. Jorie Ann Kosel gives a heartfelt portrayal of Laura, Cameron Reeves is hilarious as Barry, Maxwell Ward's performance as Dick (with some great hair-acting!) puts him in danger of being typecast as the adorably sweet young man (see also Lyric Arts' She Loves Me), Charlie Morgan is appropriately smarmy as Laura's hippie new boyfriend, and Dorothy Owen is great as the reliable best friend. Kudos to the entire ensemble for playing multiple characters including customers, ex-girlfriends, singers, etc. (with a special shout-out for Paul Hoselton's super fun Bruce Springsteen impersonation).

buddies Dick, Barry, and Rob at the record store (Maxwell Ward,
Cameron Reeves, and Taras Wybaczynsky, photo courtesy of MMT)
Much of the story is told through narration, with Rob speaking directly to the audience, which immediately brings the audience right into the story. There's no danger of checking out, which is sometimes too easy to do when sitting in a dark theater a few hundred feet away from the stage. No set design is needed when performing in Electric Fetus, founded in the tumultuous year that was 1968, moving to its current location at 4th and Franklin in 1972. After walking through the front section that sells cute and quirky gifts and clothing (including an adorable cat skirt I almost bought), you enter the music section, with row upon row of albums and CDs. This is where the performance happens, mostly behind, on, and in front of the register counter, with the band set up just to the right. They've placed risers in the two aisles where most of the action happens, with movable crates for the actors to stand on, which helps improve sightlines. Still, you'll need to move around a bit to follow the action, and sometimes might be encouraged to move up a little closer, but that's part of the fun of an immersive theater experience. Most of the ambiance is created by Electric Fetus' usual decor of concert fliers and musician posters, with a few "Championship Vinyl" items thrown in for effect. Costume designer Alex Kotlarek has clothed the cast in funky cool early 2000s duds.

Paul Hoselton channeling Bruce Springsteen amongst
the records (photo courtesy of MMT)
It may have flopped on Broadway, but this is the way High Fidelity was meant to be performed and experienced. Thanks to the uber cool location that is Electric Fetus, director Sara Pillatzki Warzeha and her ingenious use of the space, Abbi Fern's loose and organic choreography (including one brilliant rewind section), and this awesome cast and band, High Fidelity is a unique musical theater experienced not to be missed! Performances continue Friday/Saturday/Sunday evenings through May 20 only.