When the musical based on Nick Hornby’s well-loved novel High Fidelity (and the film of the same name) opened on Broadway in 2006, the New York Times review claimed it deserved to be “on the roster of All-Time Most Forgettable Musicals”. It’s a credit, then, to the team at the Hayes, that they have been able to take this material and turn it into such a fun night in the theatre.
Set in what the opening number describes as The Last Real Record Store – a dingy second-hand vinyl shop in the era of CDs and cassette mix-tapes – the show centres on store owner Rob (Toby Francis) and his misfit employees Barry (Joe Kosky) and Dick (Dash Kruck), whose lives are slipping away one Top Five list at a time.
Toby Francis as Rob in Hayes Theatre Co’s High Fidelity. Photos © Robert Catto
Toby Francis finds an effective balance between self-pity and arrogance as the self-absorbed Rob – who laments all the women who have ever left him – charming the audience as narrator and protagonist, his dialogue drawing heavily on Hornby’s novel. If the delineating lighting changes between narration and action are a little abrupt early on (some of the quick-cut filmic effects used in the show are more effective than others) Francis finds more subtlety in his own navigation of the two facets of the role. And he can definitely sing – he keeps the energy pumping in a role that rarely sees him off-stage.
Teagan Wouters and Toby Francis in Hayes Theatre Co’s High Fidelity.
Teagan Wouters brings a quiet exasperation (and a great voice) to the role of Laura, Rob’s lawyer girlfriend who moves out of their apartment at out the start of the show. But it’s in Number 5 with a Bullet that she really lets loose – the song is a definite highlight.
Dash Kruck in Hayes Theatre Co’s High Fidelity.
Joe Kosky, bearded and sporting band shirts the likes of Guitar Wolf and Opeth, is an imposing but quirky Barry, while Dash Kruck almost steals the show as the diminutive Dick, whose own endearing journey elicits the most sympathy from the audience – his song No Problem is a delight. Jenni Little brings a sweetness to the role of Anna, Dick’s record store crush.
Nicholas Christo in Hayes Theatre Co’s High Fidelity.
Nicholas Christo is suitably unsettling as vegan New Age parody Ian, getting plenty of laughs from the audience, while Zoe Gertz is a high-intensity Liz, her aggressive truth-telling falling on Rob’s deaf ears. Erin Clare gives us a beautiful, resigned Ready to Settle as Marie LaSalle – a character with less to do here than in the film.
Zoe Gertz in Hayes Theatre Co’s High Fidelity.
While Tom Kitt’s rock/pop score is hardly ground-breaking, there are plenty of upbeat tributes to the musical styles accumulating dust in the record store – and Musical Director Andrew Worboys delivers consistently tight-as-a-drum, high-energy performances with his band. Director Neil Gooding and choreographer Cameron Mitchell keep the pace snappy throughout, using the intimate space at the Hayes, and Lauren Peters’ great set, with economical grace and panache – bins of records seamlessly and effectively shifted to move the action from the record store to Rob’s apartment and a nightclub.
Hayes Theatre Co’s High Fidelity.
Despite great performances across the board, fans of the book or film may find this show disappointing. Hornby gives Rob’s voice as narrator such a distinct flavour that the subtle shift in tone that comes with Amanda Green’s lyrics sits oddly (the songs for Dick are more effective). Perhaps odder still is that one of the central narrative devices of novel and film is completely sidelined. In both, Rob’s tracking down of the women who left him (his Desert Island Top 5 Break-Ups, featuring Clare, Hegarty, Little, Denise Devlin and Bronte Florian) only to discover that his own behaviour was just as hurtful (if not more so) to them, drives his journey of self-discovery. But in David Lindsay-Abaire’s book, this plot is alluded to but not much more – we only really hear Rob’s side, leaving the show to skitter across the emotional surface of the story.
But despite some shortcomings in the material, Neil Gooding and team have crafted a fun, funny and fast-paced show that’s entertaining to the end.
High Fidelity is currently playing at the Hayes Theatre, Sydney.