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Review Sat Aug 22 2009

High Fidelity: Like Putting a Tron T-Shirt on a Pig

It takes High Fidelity's anti-hero nearly two hours to figure out that he's dangerously close to being "The Most Pathetic Man In The World," but to anyone watching it's pretty clear from the first curtain.

Scrounging up sympathy for Rob, this guy who cheats on his girlfriend, whines about his record store and makes inconsequential lists about music and other ways life has done him wrong is not only impossible, it's infuriating — especially when all the interesting stuff is going on behind him.

That's the rub about High Fidelity, the "rock musical about falling in love, hating your job and your all-time 'Top Five.'" You're supposed to find some humanity in this prick and root for him to reunite with his upwardly mobile ex-girlfriend, but what you really want to do is fast-forward for more hijinks from his entourage of awkward audiophiles.

The little rat pack of store clerks and vinyl junkies in the Route 66 Theatre Co.'s version of High Fidelity — plus the secondary ladies who eventually storm the stage — bring 100 percent of the fun to the show, which is currently running at the Piper's Alley Theatre (where "Tony and Tina" used to get married).

Michael Mahler is adorable as Dick. Seriously adorable. His "No Problem" (and the reprise) plus the second act's "Conflict Resolution" are pretty solid whacks at what it takes to successfully turn guys in a music store into guys in a musical. The rest feels a little too earnest in contrast to the cynical nature of the show's long-winded narrator and narcissist.

Jonathan Wagner as Jack Black Barry gets a one-time pass because his homage/send-up/rip-off is legitimately funny. Also filed under "worth it" are Derek Hasenstab as TMPMITW (acronym defined above), Michael Webber as Ian and those other random record store guys. They're all musically crackerjacked, too, strolling up to whatever instrument is lying around and playing it like an afterthought.

Like most record stores, the show's a real sausage fest. Too bad, because the women on stage are dynamo. They fill their one-dimensional parts well, sliding smoothly into "funny," "bad," "sweet" and "quirky." Dana Tretta brings a welcome spot of comedy and Christin Boulette plays badass/lesbian like she's been doing it her whole life. Kelly Maier and Blair Robertson remind us that you can be sweet and charming without inducing nausea. If you're rooting for anything here, it's that they'll jump ship from this Wienermobile and do their own show. ("Number Five With a Bullet" sounds a bit like cats in heat, though.)

Most of the secondary actors are double-cast, but it's really Rob and Laura who could stand to be seen half as much. It's hard to distinguish whether what's insufferable about them is based on script or casting. Anyone who has dated a loser can at least empathize with Laura, who apparently has only two fish in her sea, but Tricia Small comes off like Roz-Doyle-does-Bad-Sandy. And like Rob, Stef Tovar needs to get out of his own way. He's just not the right guy for the role, whether he's the founder of the Route 66 or not.

Act II stands up straighter than the first and the love story has (wisely) gotten a hack job. The script sums up the "call every ex-girlfriend to see what went wrong" plot in about two song lines, and the more maudlin events go down easy.

Members of the High Fidelity: The Nick Hornby Novel or High Fidelity: The John Cusack Movie cults would keel over without the help of Kool-Aid at this show, but anyone with a passing knowledge of the story and a burning desire to see a musical that isn't anything like "Hello, Dolly!" could probably deal.

High Fidelity: The Musical is currently playing at Piper's Alley, 1608 North Wells in Chicago. For information, visit hifichicago.com or text HiFi to 41411.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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