|The set for Springsteen on Broadway. One piano, two microphones. Guitars are off-stage.|
That was, more or less, the time at which Growin' Up started to fill the Walter Kerr Theater. Bruce Springsteen had taken the stage, spoken the magic word... "Balls!" He'd announced his intent to perform his magic trick, his proof of life. And here we were, just 5 minutes in. In the moments without music, I could hear the silence in the hall. When Bruce was playing, the hall overflowed with the lush noise of Bruce's voice (sounding great) and his guitar.
The Walter Kerr Theater is tiny by Broadway standards, just 960 seats crammed close together. I'd been there once before, and remembered the bar area that was practically on top of the last row of seats. Space in the theater was so limited that a main souvenir stand was located next door at a hotel. The seating was so tight that the very idea of getting up, even for a moment, was unthinkable. The stage set made Our Town look elaborate. All of this worked in favor of an intimate show that felt totally fresh.
|The marquee and entrance for The Walter Kerr Theater.|
What stood out to me, was that nothing stood out. Nothing about the people nor the places nor maybe even the times. On these points, especially the last, the narrative of Springsteen on Broadway seemed to me to diverge from that of the book. If you're looking for stories of Bruce's development as a musician, or of the people at any venue from the Upstage to the Student Prince, how the E Street Band came to be, or even of Bruce's personal demons, read the book. There, you'll find great and wonderful and sometimes tragic stories, but the magic trick on Friday evening was more direct.
As Bruce went through his proof of life, one thing in particular stood out to me: If nothing stands out, then really everything stands out. Everything is special, and every person is special. The vivid details, those are our details... or at least, they seem to be for a while. We recognize the symptoms, even if we haven't been there ourselves. That also reminds me a bit of "Our Town." In that town, in that place, magic happens every day.
At roughly the one hour mark, the show shifted from being a narrative with supporting musical selections, to being more of a music performance with selected vignettes. In some respects this could be a bit jarring, as Bruce seemed to go from childhood nearly straight to the bed of Tinker West's truck, leaving New Jersey on a westbound trip, then to Born in the U.S.A. and back around to his experiences at the draft board and the assertion that someone else went to Vietnam in Bruce's place. For me, the 2nd hour was choppier than the first, but it also featured many more musical selections, and who is going to tell Bruce to play less?
Other than bringing Patti Scialfa up to sing duets on Tougher Than the Rest and Brilliant Disguise, this show was strictly Bruce: Voice, guitar, piano. Bruce's voice was strong, showing no ill effects of performing 5 shows a week the past several weeks -- the first 5 days per week job he's even had, per his typically self-deprecating comments.
After quoting Born To Run (the song) in the opening moments of the show, partly to set up one of those one-liners, he didn't come back to it until the very end. When he did get to it, a bit more than 2 hours in, the magic trick was done, and so was the show.
With Bruce's magic show over, I found myself wanting to re-play it, to hear the script again, to feel those moments. And to find my own magic trick, wherever it may be.