Bruce Is Back On Broadway…. And So Am I
When we left the St. James last night the wet streets of Time Square were as clear a proof of the weather breaking as the dissipated humidity and rapidly dropped temperature. Elle Smith once mentioned how in 2020 even the air we breathed was out to kill us, but walking through a crowded Time’s Square, after a sold out return to “Springsteen On Broadway” (here) the air was more breathable than it has been in years and New York City seemed to be a gleaming jewel in the night time. No, the vast majority of Broadway Theatre won’t turn on the lights till mid-September and most restaurants were closed and boarded up, and yet with Bruce at our backs, it seemed easy to show a little faith in the magic of the night.
I went with my friend Justine Giordano, whom I hadn’t seen since the pandemic set in, but was an eager companion for the night after my niece Louba had to cancel and stay with her mother while my brother-In-Law remained hospitalized. Justine had caught Covid last year at a birthday party, and transmitted it to her mother, but thankfully neither of them got hit bad. Justine is a pretty woman (Steve Crawford dubbed her an international superstar model), and wandering around 8th Avenue in search of dinner, it was easy to fall back into our teasing, funny friendship. 8th Avenue felt equal parts barren wasteland and promised land. It wasn’t the same but it was getting there.
The St. James, packed to the gills, was the same as when I caught “Springsteen On Broadway” in previews back in October 2017, the same and better. Around 240 performances later Bruce was not so much more at ease and more aware of the arc of the show. The first time I was in the front row, and his reading from a teleprompter was a major distraction, it seemed canned, it felt conned. Three and a half years later, I couldn’t catch Bruce cribbing, he was well aware how he was going. The show wasn’t identical, though not different enough to insist you go again. It was crisper, more and shorter stories, the opening piece about seeing Elvis Presley for the first time no longer shared Elvis’s name, the rock and roll barker barked less -especially true with the how to perform in front of 80,000 ego trip no longer there.
With the Trump years and the pandemic receding into the background (and the anti-vaxxers who had been protesting the vaccine requirement taking the day off), Bruce’s summoning the ghosts of his youth, and those he had lost, was more astute and moving, the “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” summons Clarence Clemons as Scooter leans back real easy and laughs and the Big Man comes alive more than he did the first time. His memories of his father were more forgiving and less pained than the first time round -certainly than his memoir . With Bruce’s claim that when he went on stage he choose his father’s style of working man’s clothing and he realized he was pretending to be him, ghosts are summoned and embraced. Friends who died in Vietnam, are joined by family, friends, and E Streeters who have passed on, and in an emotional conclusion he claims their souls are always here… and always in the songs. It is a wonderful thought though not entirely earned, the pruning makes it harder to empathize with what is lost and found for pre-teen Bruce in Freehold. The funniest bit was Bruce’s enraged comments about how New Jersey became cool because he made in cool, before that it was an industrial wasteland.
Of the additions to the show, there is one horrendous mistake, dumping “Born To Run” at the end for last year’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams” was asinine, and if he wanted to mess with Patti Scialfa’s two song duet, for fuck’s sake drop “Tougher Than The Rest” and not “Brilliant Disguise”. The rest of the changes were pretty good, especially, with Patti again, “Fire” and a more apt than it ever was “41 Shots”. Of the songs that remain from the first iteration, Justine considered “The Promised Land” the highlight, but you could go back two more songs and claim “The Wish” and “Thunder Road” were its equal.
I do have problems with Bruce, I do have problems with his bellowing preacher man and the way he pushes his voice up an octave to underline while undercutting his thoughts. He is self-serving, his ego is sky high, and he might have the right to consider his rock and roll magic trick a gift of himself to his audience, that doesn’t make it any less self-important. But when he gets it right, he gets it completely right and as a show for the Northeastern United States, it was a thrill, again, to have him welcome us back.