Lovers of rock music and the theater have been waiting, for a long time and probably in vain, for a great rock musical to come along. One with real edge and a complicated heart. One that doesn't confuse a pasteurized electric guitar for actual attitude.
``High Fidelity" isn't it. The genial musical adaptation of Nick Hornby's 1995 novel -- currently having its world premiere at the Colonial Theater bound for a Dec. 7 Broadway opening -- is mildly witty and amusing, perhaps enough to please the legions of ``Rent" fans in need of a new diversion. But in an effort to straddle the hip, indie world of its characters and the mainstream demands of Broadway, the show misses both marks.
To be fair, it's a tall order mounting the third iteration of an art work, especially when both the original book and Stephen Frears' s 2000 film version were so well-done and well-loved. South Shore native David Lindsay-Abaire (a 2006 Tony Award nominee for his play ``Rabbit Hole"), composer Tom Kitt, and lyricist Amanda Green have stayed true to the story line: Rob, a commitment-phobic, pop-music-obsessed record-store owner whose girlfriend, Laura, leaves him for the pompous New Age guru upstairs, goes into an adult-onset tailspin which involves rehashing his dismal romantic track record via a series of Top 5 lists.
The record store's clerks and patrons function as a sort of slacker Greek chorus. Rob's ex-girlfriends materialize in a succession of fantasy sequences. Rob makes a few more mistakes -- ``I Slept With Someone (Who Slept With Lyle Lovett)" opens Act 2 -- before figuring out what matters.
That number is one of the show's best: a genuinely wry tune that doesn't sound like mock rock radio. There are a smattering of sparkling moments in ``High Fidelity": among them ``No Problem," an off beat charmer performed by Christian Anderson as the mousy store clerk Dick, who steals the show with his fabulously maladjusted delivery, and ``Conflict Resolution," an effervescent ensemble piece that channels the spirit of Guns N ' Roses and the Beastie Boys to hilarious effect.
Green's lyrics are very good: smarter and funnier than the moon-June rhymes that litter so many big-budget Broadway productions, although some of the credit must go to Hornby's snappy prose, which is occasionally transplanted straight from the written page to the score. Jay Klaitz hews closely to the film version for his portrayal of the manic music snob Barry, a calculated risk that pays off. While there isn't an actor around who can lasso the lunacy Jack Black brought to his break-out role, Klaitz (a short, chubby ringer) is winningly bullish.
If only the music were as consistently captivating. Liberal use of four-letter words, while fairly radical for prime-time musical theater, can't disguise the fundamental cheesiness of many of these songs, whose middle-of-the-road sensibilities are embodied by Will Chase's Rob, a nice guy with a country-rock vocal style, and Jenn Colella's Laura, a lovely blonde who sings in a modest, pretty voice.
It's hard to believe this bright-eyed fellow runs a vinyl outpost in Brooklyn, where the story has been relocated from the book's London setting and the film's Chicago locale. (Anna Louizos' s you-are-there set is spot-on . ) But there's a good possibility that his all-American croon will play in Peoria. The Bruce Springsteen dream sequence, I'm not so sure.
Director Walter Bobbie knows a thing or two about generating stage electricity; he won a Tony Award for his long-running revival of ``Chicago." The sparks here, though, are too few and far between to ignite into an electrifying whole. Rock 'n' roll and Broadway may be too distant in too many important ways to ever come together with integrity. Aesthetically, Broadway's aim is to please the most people most of the time; rock's mission is to thrill and provoke. Demographically, the theater would like to lure every tourist in Times Square. But a rock song homogenous enough to appeal to everyone doesn't, by definition, rock.
Joan Anderman can be reached at email@example.com.