Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Funky, fun, “High Fidelity a musical” at Blank Canvas

Pat Ciamacco, artistic director at Blank Canvas, has a “thing” for off-beat musicals.  Sure, he produced “Hair” and “Godspell,” but it’s more likely that what you’ll see mounted on his stage are “Beach Blanket Party,” “Debbie Does Dallas,” and “Texas Chainsaw Musical.”  I’m surprised he’s missed out on “Bullshot Crummond,” “Dance of the Vampires,” “Expresso Bongo,” “Hands on a Hard Body, and, of course, “The Rocky Horror Show.”

Pat’s latest offering is David Lindsay-Abaire, Amanda Green and Tom Kitt’s “High Fidelity, a musical,”  which is based on Nick Hornby’s similarly named novel.

The story centers on Rob Gordon, a 30-year old slacker, who owns a record shop. ("I'm sitting on a business that has zero growth potential, and I wouldn't change a thing.")   He is obsessed with developing top five lists for everything.  You name the category, and Rob, rather than concentrating on what is really happening in his life, has developed a top five. 

He’s kind of a Peter Pan who refuses to grow up, geared to live with and obsess about disappointment.  “Never grow up, never grow up, never grow up,” that is, until his girlfriend, Laura, leaves him (not even qualifying for his “Worst Top Five Breakup” list).  When Laura’s father dies, Rob suddenly has an epiphany, “He needs to let loose of his top five lists, yes, even his “Top Five ‘mother load’ of 45-rpm records” list, and the records, themselves, and his self-centered view of the world. 

The musical had a short and mixed-reviews run in Boston, then a fourteen performance run on Broadway.  With a review from a New York leading newspaper calling the epic-not “an all-time most forgettable musical,” there wasn’t much of a future for this script. 

Short runs and bad reviews don’t dissuade Ciamacco.  He knows his niche audience and his own off-the-wall sense of humor.  His people go for loud, brash and kooky, not sweet, home style and family friendly.  Yeah, blood zones, not comfort zones.  So this off-the wall script is a perfect choice for him and them.

The score includes ballads, rock, country western, and heavy metal.  There are references to mega-stars like the Beastie Boys, Indigo Girls, Talking Heads, and Aretha Franklin.  All of the songs are original, however, so no old standards are sung.  This is not a jukebox musical.

The music is loud, everyone is miked, even the orchestra, which shakes the walls and chairs in the postage-stamp sized theatre, where the furthest seat is ten feet from the stage. 

My head is still ringing, and I removed my hearing-aids half way through.  I still have an echo in my head twenty-four hours later.  I guess it’s a generational thing, but  I have a strong desire to hear the words the singers are singing, not the semblance of words.  I think since the words were written, I should understand them. As I said, it’s a generational thing.

Songs include “The Last Real Record Store,” “Desert Island Top 5-Break-Ups,” “Ian’s Here,” “Ready to Settle,” “Cryin’ in The Rain,” and “Turn the World Off.” 

Favorites songs include the clever “Nine Percent Chance,” the statistical probability that Laura will take Rob back, which had a boy-group sound complete with repetitive gestures and choreography. 

Another delight was “It’s No Problem,” first sung by the utterly charming Charlie Brown-like Pat Miller as the nerdy Dick, who doesn’t know whether he has had sex or not.  But by the end of the show, he has a girl friend, Anna (the equally nerdy Monica Zach) who joins Miller in the song’s reprise. 

And then there is “Laura, Laura,” a nice ballad, performed beautifully by our hero, the tall, skinny, handsome, Shane Patrick O’Neill, he of great voice and acting talent. 

I heard and understood the lyrics to those three “quiet” songs.

The cast is talented, sings well, and has a ball portraying their odd ball parts.  They even did justice to the farce nature of the piece, a hard task.

Leslie Andrews is girlfriend Laura, Kate Leigh Michalski is Rob’s nagging female friend, director Pat Ciamacco displays a big set of singing pipes as the negative Barry, Kevin Myers is a hoot as T.M.P.M.I.T.W. (yes, that’s what the guys call him!).  Stephen Berg does a bad (yes, bad, “bad,” not bad “good”) take-off on Bruce Springsteen, to the delight of the audience.

The overly energetic and overly miked orchestra, under the direction of Lawrence Wallace, played the begeebers out of the music.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “High Fidelity, a musical,” now on stage at Blank Canvas, is fun.  It’s filled with delightful ridiculousness, is well-staged and performed, and is definitely LOUD.  If you are in the mood for a night of off- beat “cool,” and “different” and want to avoid Santa Claus, reindeer, an umbrella carrying flying nanny, and “bah-humbug,” this should be your holiday theatre treat. 

Blank Canvas runs “High Fidelity, a musical” through December 20 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvasthetre.com