Review: High Fidelity (Refuge Theatre Project)

| February 25, 2016

Amy Stricker, Britain Gebhardt, Max DeTogne, Lizzie Schwarzrock, Kelly Baskin, Caitlin Jackson          

High Fidelity

By Amanda Green (lyrics), Tom Kitt (music)
   and David Lindsay-Abaire (book)
at Refuge Records, 666 W. Hubbard (map)
thru Feb 28  |  tix: $20  | more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Highly enjoyable!


Amy Stricker, Britain Gebhardt, Max DeTogne, Lizzie Schwarzrock, Kelly Baskin, Caitlin Jackson

Refuge Theatre Project presents
High Fidelity

Review by Lauren Whalen 

Nick Hornby’s first novel, “High Fidelity,” was a smash hit: an adult coming-of-age tale with a musical backdrop, crackling dialogue and witty observations about relationships past and present. The 2000 film adaptation starring John Cusack was both a breakout for comedian Jack Black and a love letter to Chicago. But what of the musical adaptation, with a book by award-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and a score from the composer of Next to Normal? Thanks to Refuge Theatre Project, I now know that while High Fidelity the musical doesn’t quite live up to the book and film, it’s a solid, smart effort – and Refuge’s production is a snarky delight.

Nick Druzbanski, Stephen Garrett and Max DeTogne  in High Fidelity, Refuge TheatreRob Gordon (Max DeTogne) has everything figured out – sort of. He owns a fantastic record shop, Championship Vinyl, and gets to hang out every day. So what if his customers never actually buy anything and his employees (Stephen Garrett and Nick Druzbanski) sometimes scare people away? He also lives with his beautiful lawyer girlfriend Laura (Liz Chidester), until the day she dumps him. Rob can’t quite understand what went wrong, so he turns to his vast record collection and his memories of girlfriends past. Can he figure it out before Ian (Tony Carter) – who handled Kurt Cobain’s ill-fated intervention – steals Laura’s heart? Or is Rob destined to be forever alone, with only his music for company?

Be it book, movie or musical, High Fidelity is challenging in that Rob isn’t always a likable protagonist. And in Lindsay-Abaire’s adaptation, Rob makes less of a journey than Hornby’s book or Stephen Frears’ film. That said, Amanda Green and Tom Kitt’s lyrics and music are peppy and clever, using Rob’s top five breakups as a Greek chorus of sorts and clearly defining characters with nuance and humor. Tributes to Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen are hilarious and spot-on to even the casual listener of each, and though no song is particularly memorable, the score is fun and pleasantly rocking.

Caitlin Jackson, Amy Stricker, Kelly Baskin, Lizzie Schwarzrock, Britain GebhardtMax DeTogne and Liz Chidester in High Fidelity, Refuge Theatre

Refuge Theatre Project, a relatively young company with a promising start, stages High Fidelity in a west side pop-up space that simply but accurately conveys Championship Vinyl and Rob’s apartment, the two main settings. The intimate, somewhat rough atmosphere lends itself well to the struggles of High Fidelity’s neurotic and almost-hip hero, and Christopher Pazdernik’s staging and choreography furthers the show’s relatability. Though I question exactly what era this is supposed to be (I assume late 90’s, but a few cultural references in the book and Derek Valenti’s costumes are a bit anachronistic), I appreciated being right there in the moment with Rob, Laura and the realistic but colorful cast of characters.

DeTogne is a funny, snarky Rob who’s utterly likable even at his most self-centered (in fact, I wish at times he’d been a bit less likable), and displays sweet, sparky chemistry with the golden-voiced Chidester. Caitlin Jackson puts her considerable pipes to use as Rob’s tell-it-like-it-is pal Liz, displaying flawless comic timing to go with her Bette Midler-esque vocals. Druzbanski embraces the challenge of playing the brutally honest Barry – a breakout film role for Jack Black – by giving the character a dry, lovably weird vibe that’s a joy to watch. And speaking of lovable, Garrett shines as the emotional heart of the show, shy music nerd Dick. His solo song, “It’s No Problem,” is soul-baring in the quietest and sweetest way.

Caitlin Jackson, Kelly Baskin, Lizzie Schwarzrock, Britain Gebhardt, Amy Stricker, Max DeTogne

Refuge is a company to watch: not even two seasons in, and their performers are strong, their ideas fresh, their enthusiasm plentiful. High Fidelity is an indie delight, chronicling a nontraditional yet quite universal delayed coming-of-age. We all have a little Rob Gordon in us, and High Fidelity is a testament to the power and potential of maturity, relationships and pop music.

Rating: ★★★½

High Fidelity continues through February 28th at Refuge Records, 666 W. Hubbard (map), with performances Fridays/Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 6pm.  Tickets are $20, and are available online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Max DeTogne, Stephen Garrett and Nick Druzbanski in High Fidelity

Photos by Laura Leigh Smith




Max DeTogne (Rob), Liz Chidester (Laura), Amy Stricker (Marie, Charlie), Kelly Baskin (Penny, Backup Singer, Laura u/s), Britain Gebhardt (Sarah, Liz u/s), Jacob Fjare (PYM, Rob u/s, Trumpet), Lewis Rawlinson (PYM, Dick u/s, Cello), Will Wilhelm (PYM), Caitlin Jackson (Liz), Nick Druzbanski (Barry), Stephen Garrett (Dick), Tony Carter (Ian), Noah Berman (TMPMITW), Lizzie Schwarzrock (Anna, Allison), Stephanie Rohr (swing), Bradley Halverson (Ian u/s, swing)


John Cockerill (piano), Robert Campbell (guitar), Will Gumbiner (bass), Kedgrick Pullums (winds)

behind the scenes

Christopher Pazdernik (director, choreographer), John Cockerill (music director), JC Widman (stage manager), Michelle Manni (technical director, set design), Jessica Doyle (lighting design), Cody Ryan (master electrician), Richard Schroeder (sound design), Derek Valenti (costume design), Laura Leigh Smith (photos)


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, Musical, Refuge Theatre Project, Tom Kitt

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