Saturday, 14 February 2015

High Fidelity, Phoenix Players, ANU Arts Centre

"High Fidelity" is my favourite amateur production of a musical I've seen since Everyman's production of "Rent" in 2012. Now, I haven't seen every musical presented in Canberra since then, so maybe there was something better out there and I missed it, but never the less, this is a high-energy, hilarious, fun, modern engaging story of love-gone-wrong, young men with misguided passions, broken hearts and rock and roll. You should book a ticket immediately, because I'm probably going to write quite a lot of words in this one, and you don't want to forget the important bit, which is to book.

So why's it so good? Well, let's start with the show itself. There are pretty reasonable credentials on board - both composer Tom Kitt and book-writer David Lindsay-Abaire have won Putlizer prizes for their works elsewhere (Kitt with "Next to Normal", Lindsay-Abaire on "Rabbit Hole"), While, no, this isn't necessarily their absolutely top draw material, Kitt produces a clever pop-and-rock inspired score that can, when it needs to, seriously groove, Lindsay-Abaire's book is full of quality jokes, and is a reasonably tight adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel (and the John Cusack film). And Amanda Green's lyrics are sharp, singable, scan well and also quite capable of producing out-loud-laughs.

It's a rare musical that's told entirely through one, somewhat unreliable, narrator. Rob (Zach Raffan) . Raffan wasn't in the best singing voice when I saw him, but he has a lot of charm and swagger and is suitably vulnerable when called upon to do so. He's a solid centre for the rest of the show to revolve around. Similarly solid, and occasionally more so, is Josie Dunham as Laura, his very-recently-ex-girlfriend (she's moving out of his apartment as the show begins). The lionshare of her material is moody and reflective, but when she's given a chance to rock the house down Joan Jett style with "Number Five with a Bullet", she grabs that chance and rips the roof off. 

Playing solid support is a ridiculously strong ensemble cast. First of all, there's Max Gambale and Will Huang. I've never seen Gambale play such an opinionated, self-centred doucenozzle before, but he manages to make Barry's larger-than-life persona enjoyable and engaging. Similarly, Will Huang is pure puppy-dog adorability as the dweebish Dick, generating a private theory that his characters get nicer the longer his hair is (between this and his shaved-skull in "The Burning"). Amy Dunham is a mini-Aretha as Rob and Laura's go-between friend Liz - it's slightly a crime she only really gets one song to cut loose, but she's a welcome presence whether singing or cutting forth with a one-liner (and also some damn good death-stares). David Cannell is delightfully ridiculous as Laura's ill-advised-rebound-guy Ian, busting forth with new-age nonsense with a whimsical flair. Miriam Miley-Read is smooth, southern, rockstar glam and hilarious when she launches into her ballad, "Ready to Settle".

And Tim Stiles ... well, he gets to have Amy Dunham rub his belly every performance, he doesn't need a good review too. 

Jenny Tabor and the band deliver one of the tightest, rockingest teams I've heard in quite some time - they're worth listening through all the way through to the exit cues. Jordan Kelly's choreography summarises about three decades of videoclips into sharp, witty, grooving moves. Anita Davenport and Steve Galinec's set design is sharp, with just the right amount of detail and allows for fairly rapid switches of location. 

All credit is due to Phoenix players and for directors Nathan Patrech and Sarah Hull for getting a funny, groovy, incredibly enjoyable show onto Canberra stages. I left with a grin in my heart and several great songs too. Huge congratulations and may we see more shows with a modern edge and great staging soon.

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