Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
Pictured: (l-r) Nick Druzbanski, Stephen Garrett, and Max DeTogne from the 2016 production. Photo Laura Leigh Smith.
Review: HIGH FIDELITY: THE MUSICAL at Refuge Theatre Project
By Rachel Weinberg
In the spirit of the many “Top 5” song lists offered up in Refuge’s HIGH FIDELITY: THE MUSICAL, I present five reasons to see this entertaining, feel-good pop musical production rife with charm and delectable harmonies. There’s much to enjoy in Refuge ArRtistic Director Christopher Pazdernik’s delightful production, which is a remount of a 2016 staging of this musical based upon the 2000 film with John Cusack. Here are some of the reasons why this musical is worth a visit to Wicker Park:
1. Refuge has staged this production in a literal pop-up storefront on Ashland Avenue, brilliantly designed by Michelle Manni (with lighting by Alex Fisher). When I first entered the venue to see the production, I wondered if I had stumbled upon an actual record store. The attention to detail here is just superb, and the space adds to the energy and excitement of the production.
2. Tom Kitt and Amanda Green’s score, with book by David Lindsay-Abaire, give audiences a delightfully escapist and fun story of record store owner Rob Gordon as he struggles to handle his recent breakup with his girlfriend Laura, with the help of his friends Dick and Barry. In such a tense cultural moment, the charm and straight-forwardness of HIGH FIDELITY are utterly welcome. And Tom Kitt, who also composed NEXT TO NORMAL, among other titles, knows the pop musical genre inside and out; the score is always a pleasure.
3. Tom Kitt’s aforementioned pleasing melodies are delivered by a consistently phenomenal ensemble. The cast of HIGH FIDELITY is doing incredible work here. They harmonize so beautifully and infuse each note with enough power and verve to fill a much larger theater. The energy throughout this production remains vibrant and never flags. Each moment is sheer joy to watch.
4. The leading players are spot on. As Rob, Maxwell J. DeTogne strikes an affable balance between cocky and vulnerable. Liz Chidester has solid stage chemistry with DeTogne and gives a truly lovely performance. As Rob’s confidante Liz, Caitlin Jackson finds so many laughs but also feels entirely sincere in each moment she appears. Amy Stricker has a delightful turn as the up-and-coming singer Marie LaSalle. And I’d be remiss not to mention Lewis Rawlinson as Dick, Rob’s timid friend. Rawlinson’s vocals are stunningly beautiful, and he is utterly winning in his line deliveries.
5. All in all, I think it would be nearly impossible to leave HIGH FIDELITY without a smile on your face. Though the overarching narrative has some feist and angst, and moments of sadness, the production overall radiates with positive energy and expertly sung vocals. For fans of the movie, Nick Hornby’s original 1995 novel, or pop musicals in general, HIGH FIDELITY is certainly worth viewing.
HIGH FIDELITY runs through March 5th. For more information visit refugetheatre.com.