Hitting all the right notes
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The top five reasons to go see the rock musical comedy “High Fidelity” in no particular order are: One, the actors kill it with both body and voice. Two, the set design is amazing. Three, it messes with your sense of time and space unlike any other musical. Four, each song has its own unique style. And five, it’s an enjoyable production.
That inventory would probably not satisfy Rob (fifth-year student Jacob Lang), a compulsive list-maker and the owner of the “last real record store on earth.” It’s not esoteric or arrogant and doesn’t have any asides. At least it has five items, unlike some of his lists.
Rob’s self-narrated story centers around an attempt to get over his falling out with Laura (third-year student Bessie Bulman), his semi-serious girlfriend. She walked out on him because, among other reasons, he lacked purpose. And who could blame her? Rob spends all of his time working at his record store with “the musical moron twins,” Barry (second-year student John Paul Peralta) and Dick (fourth-year student Zachary Palumbo), and their few regular customers, including The Most Pathetic Man in the World (fourth-year student Bradley Krapes).
The normally content Rob first denies that the end of the relationship affects him (“Desert Island Top 5 Break-Ups”), but soon realizes (with the help of an imagined Laura) that he is heartbroken (“Number Five With a Bullet”). He spends the rest of the musical trying to win her back from Ian (third-year student Keith Dona) while also exploring his other past failed relationships.
Both Lang and Bulman shone as the leads. You could really sense Laura’s lack of confidence in her relationship with Ian through Bulman’s vocal timbre and mannerisms. She spoke more uneasily and shuddered ever so slightly every time he came near her. These small actions were key in conveying her character’s state of mind. As for Lang, he didn’t need subtlety. Rob’s confusion, depression and excitement were all easily detectable in Lang’s expressive gestures.
Along with the leads’ high quality performances, the supporting actors’ commitment to their roles completes the production. From the start, Peralta is loud and gets in other characters’ faces, showcasing Barry’s energy and aggressiveness. Palumbo’s quiet Dick is in every way Barry’s foil. That is, excluding his solo (“It’s No Problem”) when he commands the stage and interrupts Rob multiple times.
Two of the most impressive supporting performances came from third-year student Natalie El Dabh and second-year student Nailah Matthews. Both demonstrated their musical talents and acting range by doubling up on parts: El Dabh played Rob’s friend Liz and one of his ex-girlfriends, and Matthews portrayed love interest Marie LaSalle and another ex-girlfriend. El Dabh sings an Aretha Franklin-style jam (“She Goes”) that puts Rob in his place. Matthews, meanwhile, impresses with an acoustic solo (“Ready to Settle”) that pulls on Rob’s—and the audience’s—heart.
Another strength of the production lies in its varied song stylings. One would expect a musical centered around the lives of record store snobs to have an eccentric and diverse soundtrack and “High Fidelity” delivers just that. The music includes hardcore rap, heavy metal thrashings, soulful solos, rock ballads, stereotypical Eastern music and everything in-between.
The actors take all of the style switches in stride. The best example of their flexibility comes In the rewindable, revenge fantasy scene second act (“Conflict Resolution”). As Rob imagines progressively more violent ways to deal with Ian, the songs he sings become progressively more intense, culminating in an intense ensemble rap filled with bleeped-out expletives. Lang, Peralta and Palumbo do an excellent job of never missing a beat when the songs switch styles, singing the final selection as skillfully as the first.
The only problems with the production were not the fault of the (mostly) student actors.
First, the plot felt rushed. The production covered Rob’s character transformation in just a few lines of song, making the transition unapparent until the final scene. Even then, it still felt shallow.
A similar problem plagued the one-dimensional supporting characters. Though each one changes his surface flaw, they all remain the same on the inside. Take Barry, for instance. In the beginning of the play, he arrogantly refuses to sell records to customers because he doesn’t agree with their taste in music. But at the end, he brings in a crowd with a performance from his band. Nothing really changes about Barry; he’s still an arrogant punk, just a successful arrogant punk now.
Despite these flaws, the production still succeeds. It provides the audience with enough laughs to make up for a weak message. “High Fidelity” is an enjoyable show, just not a thought-provoking one. There is certainly nothing wrong with that.
Looking for a good time this weekend? Stop on by the last real record store on earth and check out “High Fidelity.”
Show: “High Fidelity” by David Lindsay-Abaire, Amanda Green and Tom Kitt
Troupe: CWRU Department of Theater
Location: Eldred Theater
Dates: Nov. 11, 12, 18, 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 13 and 20 at 3 p.m.