Jul 28, 2014

Rock On: Broadway Flop Gets Second Chance in Clayton

Here's how New Line Theatre plans to turn 'High Fidelity,' the story of a record-shop owner with a lot to learn about love and life, into a St. Louis sensation—again.

Rock On: Broadway Flop Gets Second Chance in Clayton Rock On: Broadway Flop Gets Second Chance in Clayton Rock On: Broadway Flop Gets Second Chance in Clayton

When High Fidelity opened on Broadway in late 2006, it flopped. Critics were merciless. The show seemed destined never to be produced again. But Scott Miller of 's New Line Theatre—having heard the cast album—saw something different.

After working out an agreement with the writers of the musical, Miller produced High Fidelity in St. Louis. It was a bona fide hit. Critics praised it. Every performance but one sold out, and it inspired productions across the country.

Now, it's returning for a second run.

Like the cult movie that came before it, High Fidelity the musical—with a book by David Lindsay-Abaire and songs by Tom Kitt and Amanda Green—is based on a 1995 novel by Nick Hornby.

The story focuses on Rob, a 30-something Brooklyn record shop owner who knows everything about music but next to nothing about keeping a girlfriend. After yet another breakup, the self-centered Rob must learn to take his life as seriously as he takes music.

But the show does more than simply use music as a backdrop. It is a story about music. Like the novel, the musical version defines the relationship between rock and its fans by referencing a litany of major players such as Bruce Springsteen, Guns N’ Roses, the Beatles, Talking Heads, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel and more.

They become signposts along our well-traveled emotional highways.

When New Line opens the show for the second time May 31, Miller will largely have himself to thank for making the musical available: He rescued it from the discard pile in the first place.

When Miller originally contacted the writers about mounting a production in St. Louis, the show had languished in oblivion for two years. His interest surprised them.

“I don't think they expected to see anything happen with it,” Miller said.

But the grandeur of Broadway can push subtlety and nuance out the stage door—and subtlety and nuance are two things that intimate theaters such as New Line do very well. So its production became successful precisely because it was everything the Broadway production was not: scaled down, with fewer cast members and a smaller set.

“The set on Broadway was huge,” Miller said. “Stuff came out of the floor.”

When lyricist Green flew to St. Louis to see New Line’s production, she too saw the improvements that came with scaling down High Fidelity.

“She thought New Line got closer because we had gotten rid of all the baggage,” Miller said. “We captured the subtlety that they had missed in New York.”

As word of the successful High Fidelity production spread, other performance groups began contacting Miller for help in getting the rights to the show. Miller put them in touch with the writers, resulting in productions in Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Kansas City; and other locations.

Before Miller committed to producing High Fidelity a second time, he knew it was important to bring back some of the original cast including Jeffrey M. Wright, who plays Rob in the show.

“One-third of the cast is coming back,” Miller said. “There were some people who had to come back. But we have new people who I wanted to get to do it, too.”

WHATHigh Fidelity the musical (book by David Lindsay-Abaire, music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Amanda Green)WHEN8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from May 31 through June 23WHERE (formerly CBC High School), 6501 Clayton Rd.TICKETSThrough all Metrotix outlets, Metrotix online or by calling 314-534-1111.OTHER NOTESThis show contains adult content and language. 

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