* I attended the High Fidelity musical as a guest of Phoenix Players.
First there was the 1995 Nick Hornby book (set in London), then there was the 2000 movie starring John Cusack and Jack Black (set in Chicago), and then came the musical. Most importantly, the musical then came to Canberra, in the form of a production by local Canberra amateur theatrical company Phoenix Players.
High Fidelity is the story of a directionless record store owner Rob (Zach Raffan) and his girlfriend, Laura (Josie Dunham) – well, his ex-girlfriend, having just broken up with him. Rob’s been through all manner of painful break-ups, but this one really stings – especially when Josie shacks up with his former neighbour Ian (David Cannell). With some help from his friends and music (and rockstars themselves), and a healthy dose of reflection on his past break-ups, Rob starts to re-evaluate his life and determine if Laura could still be part of it.
While Rob grapples with his love-life, his two employees Dick (Will Huang, who starred in the excellent production of The Burning last year) and Barry (Max Gambale) – guys who he hired on a part-time basis but have been coming to the store every day for the past four years – manage the maintenance of the store’s mediocrity by insulting most of its customers, as they pursue some love interests of their own.
I’m struck at first by the clever set design and use of light; little change is needed to easily flick from scene to scene as moveable walls rotate to turn one part of the record store to Rob’s small apartment, or a scene at a gym. The band-shirt costumes are great, and I find myself wondering where this collection has been pulled from.
The production lacks some of the 90s grunginess I’m expecting but it’s easy to overlook this thanks to some stand-out performances. Josie Dunham’s and Amy Dunham’s (Liz, Rob and Laura’s friend) voices are superb: every scene in which they sing is a thrill. Huang and Gambale provide comic relief (along with their own excellent voices), and support Raffan’s efforts. I’m particularly impressed with Gambale: the character is played by Jack Black in the film which is huge to live up to, but Gambale makes the role his own. The tricky part of the show being a musical, however, is that the score is only influenced by classic rock genres – and, to be fair, performed brilliantly, if not a little loudly – meaning the actual music you’d expect in a record store is missing. It’s this which made the film for me, and there’s a vacuum without it.
There’s a lack of chemistry between Josie Dunham and Raffan which is particularly distracting at the end. Rob’s relationship with music doesn’t feel fully spelt out, so the scenes with ‘stars’ including Neil Young lack context and I think could be done away with; they make a long second half feel it. Despite this, the show’s able to be energetic and fun while putting forth the story of really a rather morose character; this energy is borne from what feels like a real commitment to the production from the cast and production team. It’s a commendable show to make for an enjoyable Saturday night.
Date: Saturday, 7 February 2015
Cost: I attended as a guest of Phoenix Players
Where: ANU Arts Centre (near the refec – ish)
Want more? The show runs until 21 February. Tickets and more details can be found here.