‘High Fidelity’ – why did it fail so spectacularly?

I have been listening to the High Fidelity soundtrack a fair bit on my iPod recently – in case you’re confused, I’m talking about the soundtrack from the Broadway musical, and not the film. Since it hasn’t been on in London, very few people even seem aware of the show’s existence, so I thought I would write about it and try to introduce some more people to a show with music that I like.

I was therefore somewhat surprised to discover that this show was an abject failure when it opened on Brodway in 2006 – it closed after only 14 performances, losing its producers somwhere in the region of £10m (to see the British press’ response, see the Guardian article here). For an idea of how badly it was received, take a look at the New York Times review, written by Ben Brantley.

“High Fidelity” definitely deserves a place in my own catalog of Top 5 lists. That would be on the roster of All-Time Most Forgettable Musicals. Now if only I could remember the names of the others.

“The seeming credo of this production … can be found early in its lyrics: ‘Nothin’s great, and nothin’s new, but nothin’ has its worth.'”

 If you read the review, you’ll see that there are a number of responses from people who disagreed, and loved the show. Unfortunately there weren’t enough of them to keep the show open!

Anyway, having told you that the show was a massive failure, I now want to tell you why you should give the show a chance and get a copy of the CD here (although it is remarkably expensive at more than £20). If you’re not sure, then you can listen to tracks on lastfm here first.

I can’t really compare the show to any other musical – it doesn’t really sound that much like a musical as there is a much wider range of styles with the music. Recognising that the story is about a music lover, Tom Kitt has done his best to echo some of the musical influences of the show’s characters. For me, it’s this that makes the show appealing, although it won’t appeal to everyone.

I suspect one of the reasons why I like the show because it reminds of the kind of music that I used to listen to.

The opener ‘The Last Record Store on Earth’, and ‘Nine Percent Chance’ sound like they might have been writetn by Greenday (or perhaps it’s a Weird Al Yankovic cover versions of Greenday songs?!)

Some of the show’s slower songs, like ‘Ready to Settle’ and ‘It’s No Problem’ remind me more of British indie bands like Spiritualized or Mercury Rev.  In contrast, ‘She Goes’ is funkier – more Stevie Wonder, 70s style.  I’m sure there are plenty of other influences here, which I’m sure you’ll notice if you hear the soundtrack!

Unfortunately I doubt the show will be coming to London anytime soon, given its commercial failure in the US. If it does come, perhaps it needs to start on a smaller scale, in a theatre where tickets won’t be too expensive, and people can give the show a chance on its own merits, rather than judging it on its US reviews. I think that might be a forlorn hope though, so I’ll have to keep listening to the CD instead!

PS you can find the show’s official website here and its Internet Broadway Database entry here


3 Responses to “‘High Fidelity’ – why did it fail so spectacularly?”

  1. 1 Scott Miller June 29, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    The show is enjoying a highly successful regional run in St. Louis now, selling out and receiving crtiical raves. For more info on this production, go to http://www.newlinetheatre.com/hifipage.html

    Paul Friswold, of The Riverfront Times, said, “The music is sharp and clever, and the New Line Band performs it all quite rockingly.. . . The tough little coming of age story is now allowed to shine, and it’s very bright indeed.”

    Read the full RFT review at <>

    Mark Bretz, of the Ladue News gave it a 5 on a scale of 1-to-5 and wrote, “Sweet and charming while also faithful to its raw rock roots, New Line’s rendition of High Fidelity soars on the energy of its solid music and consistent comedy. Highlights abound throughout, from the entertaining and pulsating opening number, “The Last Real Record Store on Earth,” to the poignant ballad, “Laura, Laura”. . . New Line’s High Fidelity can be cherished as fondly as Rob’s coveted collection of old 45s. What a rewarding sound it is.”

    Richard Green, of TalkinBroadway.com, said “The stars are in perfect alignment for the regional premiere of Tom Kitt and Amanda Green’s musical, based on the novel by Nick Hornby. Director Scott Miller has put together a fine cast of actors and singers (in an interesting new venue), to stage the lives of young men in a used record shop, and the women who love them. Individually, and in delightful groups, they blaze through a series of power ballads, make-up songs, break-up songs and more, covering musical idioms from the soulful sixties to the acrid eighties.”

    Chris Gibson of KDHX-FM, said, “In the spirit of author Nick Hornby, I’m presenting the top five reasons you should go see New Line Theatre’s production of the musical High Fidelity, in reverse order. Number five, because it features catchy songs from composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Amanda Green. Number four, because David Lindsay-Abaire’s script captures the novel’s flavor better than the film adaptation did. Number three, because this is the Midwest premiere, and you’ll want to see this in it’s purest form before it gets de-fanged for mass consumption. Number two, because it features a terrific cast, and a crack band. And number one, because New Line has put together an incredibly entertaining show that deserves your attendance.”

    Judith Newmark, of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, wrote, “High Fidelity started out as a delightful novel by Nick Hornby, then turned into a cute movie starring John Cusack. But it’s not an obvious candidate for the musical stage. That’s because when we think of musicals, we tend to think of flashy extravaganzas. New Line Theatre, however, specializes in small, smart shows instead. Maybe that’s why its production of High Fidelity pays off: The whole thing is built to scale. . . High Fidelity makes for appealing entertainment.”

  1. 1 The Friday Musical Roundup:9th May « Coloured Lights Trackback on May 9, 2008 at 10:54 am
  2. 2 Musicals on my iPod « Coloured Lights Trackback on August 26, 2008 at 1:06 pm

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