Refuge Theatre Project tries to rehab the clunky musical adaptation, with occasionally rocking results.
This 2006 Broadway flop was based on Nick Hornby’s novel about a manchild record-store owner, Rob, rehashing old relationships when his longtime girlfriend Laura gives him the boot, and even more so on the 2000 film, in which producer and star John Cusack transferred the action from London to Chicago. Large sections of the musical’s book, by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, feel lifted directly from Cusack and company’s screenplay, up to and including set pieces like that in which jilted music obsessive Rob (Maxwell J. DeTogne) fantasizes about ways to dispatch the infuriating New Age bro with whom Laura (Liz Chidester) is staying post-breakup. High Fidelity is a low point, too, for composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Amanda Green, who come up with some amusing genre pastiches but many others that are genuinely cringeworthy. (Their number for that revenge-fantasy scene is the show’s one attempt at rap, and it’s embarrassing on several levels.)
Still, Refuge Theatre Project’s revival finds considerable charm in hackneyed material. The company has created a pop-up theater in a vacant Wicker Park storefront, just blocks from the one on Milwaukee Avenue that housed Rob’s Championship Vinyl in the Cusack film; director Christopher Pazdernik’s conceit for the staging (first mounted in early 2016 in a different empty storefront) is that we’re in the store and on top of the action.
That’s not always ideal in this awkwardly laid-out space, where the staging feels more shoehorned than immersive. But DeTogne pulls off the tricky business of making a character who’s clearly in the wrong feel worth rooting for. Among the supporting cast, Nick Druzbanski falls into the too-inviting trap of imitating Jack Black’s Barry (though he does it well), while Caitlin Jackson’s caustic Liz and Lewis Rawlinson’s disarming Dick are standouts.
Refuge Theatre Project. Book by David Lindsay-Abaire. Lyrics by Amanda Green. Music by Tom Kitt. Directed by Christopher Pazdernik. With Maxwell J. DeTogne, Liz Chidester, Lewis Rawlinson, Nick Druzbanski, Caitlin Jackson. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.