While mix tapes and vinyls might have gone largely out of style, music elitism and snobbery certainly have not. If nothing else, director Mark Selby’s High Fidelity, the musical stage adaptation of the 1995 Nick Hornby novel, certainly reminds us of that.
Rob (David Light) owns the last “real” record store in town, and has recently broken up with his girlfriend, Laura (Jamie Arfin). In Rob’s quest to win back Laura, he compiles and mulls over lists of songs and break-ups, has a one night stand with songstress Marie LaSalle (Jennifer Walls), and ably demonstrates how not to run a record store.
High Fidelity has many problems, the biggest of which lies in its characterisations. No doubt the core of the performance is built on the tried and true “couple breaks up/couple reunites” method, but while High Fidelity has no shortage of reasons for why Rob and Laura would separate, no good reason for why they would get back together is ever presented.
Rob only ever appears more desirable in comparison to those in his immediate company and not in comparison to the average person. We want Laura to get back together with Rob, not because he’s a truly special once in a life time catch, but because he’s undoubtedly a step up from her rebound, Ian (Jason Zinger).
However, I could easily look beyond the sloppy narrative if the writing and music were more entertaining. Sadly, this isn’t the case.
Characters are defined solely by their ability to rattle off bands and songs and not by their actions or aspirations, the belief being that it’s not “who you are” but “what you like” that defines a person. The leads think and speak in top fives and condescend to those who do not, which admittedly presents an easy developmental arc that (likely deliberately) isn’t capitalized upon.
The only character that begins a metamorphosis is Rob’s meek lackey, Dick (Carl Swanson), who’s immediately chastised for suggesting there’s more to a person beyond their favourite bands. Rob himself doesn’t change at all by the end, and Laura could be understood to have changed for the worse.
The music is certainly a step up from the writing, but still fairly poor in its own regard. On the execution level, the band does well with the slower pieces and ballads, but begins to fall apart during the up tempo sections. On the composition level, it’s generally serviceable, but lacking any real highlight and not a single melody indelibly kept in mind.
So what’s good about High Fidelity, then? Despite all the nasty things I’ve said about the characters, the actors themselves remain appreciably enthusiastic and energetic throughout. The set design and staging are, for the most part, exceptional, and there are some entertaining moments in the second half (a lampoon of Neil Young in particular). It’s just a shame that you have to trudge through a swamp of inconsequential blathering to get to it. The material may work well as a novel or film, but on stage, it’s just far too saturated.
High Fidelity runs through Jan 30 at Hart House Theatre. To purchase tickets ($25; $15 students/seniors; $10 students on Wednesdays), visit www.uofttix.ca or call 416-978-8499.