It’s easy to see why you’d be tempted to turn Nick Hornby’s novel about a miserable guy who works in a record store into a musical. Music is what drives High Fidelity. Rob and his sadsack colleagues at Championship Vinyl spend their days making top-five lists and mix-tapes. The problem, though, is that while the resulting production makes constant reference to some of the best music ever created, it’s hampered by a bland pop score.
Perhaps if the music had been better, it would have been easier to forget the fact that the story is about a straight white man whining that his girlfriend has just broken up with him, and obsessively trying to get her back.
While both book and film are about that, too, they’re much more insightful about loneliness, isolation and male friendship. Plus, they came out around two decades ago, when a lot of films and books were about straight white man whining about their girlfriends.
The musical first reared its head in 2006 in America, its story relocated to the US, as was the case in the John Cusack and Jack Black-starring film. Its original creative team has two Pulitzers between them, in Next To Normal composer Tom Kitt, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and lyricist Amanda Green.
For this revival, comedian and musician Vikki Stone has been brought on board both to return things to the novel’s original Holloway setting and to detoxify the masculinity, though she’s more successful at the former than the latter.
Many of the most cringe-inducing elements of Tom Jackson Greaves’ production would be mitigated if it was funnier. But the comedy is awkwardly directed and the choreography looks caged-in, with a large cast crammed on stage doing big routines.
Oliver Ormson’s Rob is really not very likeable; partly this is the character’s fault, but it’s not helped by Ormson’s strange mid-Atlantic accent. Blessed relief comes in the form of Bobbie Little as Rob’s friend Liz. She has a strong voice and performs a fantastic number called She Goes about Rob’s ability to drive women away.
Robbie Durham provides a few comic moments as Rob’s overbearing colleague Barry, a music snob who aggressively dislikes commercial pop. Robert Tripolino’s scenes as new-age wanker Ian are some of the funniest, because he takes things to the extreme.
David Shields’ set, plastered with vinyls, switches neatly from record shop to Rob’s flat. But, even when the show is accurate in its pastiches of Nirvana and Neil Young, they’re still essentially just low-quality imitations of much better songs. The film got around this by having a cool alternative soundtrack, but the musical just adds some power chords and says: “hey, look, it sounds a bit like Springsteen”.
Maroon 5 once did a cover of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. This production is a bit like that. It’s baffling why anyone would pick this as the sophomore show at one of London’s newest theatres.