FEATURE: Darkness on the Edge of Town: Can Other Musicians Follow Bruce Springsteen's Broadway Hit?



Darkness on the Edge of Town


IN THIS PHOTO: Bruce Springsteen/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch for Variety  

Can Other Musicians Follow Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway Hit?


ALTHOUGH the acclaimed Springsteen on Broadway...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS

finished its run on 15th December – held at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York – it is on my mind and I am still seeing article relating to its impact and reception. The residency consisted of Bruce Springsteen performing five shows per week from Tuesday though to Saturday. Previews began back in October 2017 and the ticket demand was so high that the show ran through 2018. There was talk, on 16th June, 2017, that Springsteen would be performing this small run of shows that brought his work to the stage. He stated that, during the residency, he wanted to achieve something intimate and personal; a show that was perfect for a beautiful and established theatre. There would be none of the usual glitz and atmosphere of a big arena: instead, Springsteen would cut a slightly modest figure performing his music in a rather modest and humble space. The show sort of divides between spoken word and singing. It is sort of a mix between a play and regular gig; something that is not often attempted. One associates Springsteen with these epic shows that pack in thousands; him belting out hits and receiving the sort of rapture that is reserved for a select few. Not that Springsteen on Broadway is the man in a book shop reading quietly where people casually listen. It is, in any case, a rare type of show for someone so established.

Over the past few years, Springsteen has spoken about his battles with depression and struggles. There are books detailing the stories behind his songs and one can read the man talk about his life in a very honest and open fashion. In essence, Springsteen on Broadway is the master sort of mixing his catalogue with revelations and stories. Many saw the show and many, including The Guardian enjoyed it thoroughly:

Springsteen, famous for changing his set lists every night, has stayed on script. He stays in control of exactly how much he reveals, but does lift the veil, describing his whole career as “my magic trick” as he admits the artifice of his persona – the working guy who has never set foot in a factory, the rebel who was born to run, but lives 10 minutes from the town where he grew up.

At first, it is a simple run through his life story, interspersed with solo versions of career-spanning songs, Bruce alone at the piano, or centre stage with a battered acoustic guitar.

But as he moves from the narrow view of childhood, parents and hometown, his scope widens to take in America as he makes the case for the seriousness of the job he set himself, trying to both capture and account for his country. Born in the USA, once hijacked as a nationalistic rallying cry on the presidential trail by Ronald Reagan, is played as the raw protest song it was always intended to be.

People who have seen the show more than once say it has evolved as Springsteen relaxed into the material, becoming funnier and more topical”.

There was, after the show and its acclaim, a film on Netflix that captured his show/performance. Billboard talked in detail about it and what one could expect:

The film follows the structure and song sequence of the Broadway show. But that sequence shifted slightly, late in the Broadway run, as Springsteen added “Long Time Comin’” to his performance. In the Netflix film, Springsteen’s rendition of the song follows a description of a late-life reconciliation with his beloved but troubled father, on the eve of the birth of his own first child—a story which has the singer wiping away tears.

If “Born To Run” is the inevitable closer for Springsteen On Broadway, that song also contains a lyric that truly sums up the quest of Springsteen and his fans most fundamentally: “I want to know if love is real.” As the song concludes, the singer slowly, rhythmically taps the body of his black acoustic guitar, creating a heartbeat, as the stage fades to black.

What’s remarkable is that, in the age of streaming, this keenly personal document will be instantly available to a potential audience of 130 million in 190 countries, according to Netflix. When you consider that Springsteen’s 14-month tour of arenas and stadiums between January 2016 and February 2017 reached some 2.5 million fans, the promise of the Netflix platform is clear”.

There is a new Bruce Springsteen film coming and it seems like things are pretty active in his camp. I wanted to concentrate on Springsteen appearing on Broadway because it is unusual but, as reviews and audiences have shown, very popular.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Bruce Springsteen onstage during a special performance of Springsteen on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre on 14th March, 2018 in New York City/PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Springsteen is often judged on his songs and people try and get a sense of who he is from them. We can get a sense of who is through his great numbers but interviews give a better impression of what he is about. It can be hard collating it all and, unless you read his autobiography, you might miss out. Even then, it might be difficult to bring things to life and unite his great music with his story. The remarkable revelation of Springsteen opening up on stage and creating this intimate-yet-powerful stage-show is inspiring. It has not happened that often but, given its success, one wonders whether more artists should try this. It is not as intimidating and impersonal as a gig but there is more story and life than a regular play/discussion. There are so many icons in the music world and very few have brought their stories to the stage. I have talked a lot about Madonna recently – regarding Like a Prayer turning thirty – and it seems like Springsteen-style show would really suit her music/story. How about Paul McCartney taking all his music to Broadway and sprinkling in anecdotes?! I think these two artists would be a huge smash and, whilst they are busy right now, a little way down the line might be a possibility. We are in a time when technology plays a big role and we have to accept rather ghoulish phenomenon like musical holograms – Roy Orbison has been brought to life that way; Amy Winehouse, sadly, might be on stage as a hologram/holographic image very soon.

The intimacy and simplicity of a great musician uniting theatre and live performance seems rare in this time. In a way, we get to reveal layers and to the heart of someone who, through songs and fame, can seem somewhat mysterious and oblique. One can write their own top-five lists of artists who could succeed in a similar environment and follow The Boss to the stage. Bob Dylan seems like an obvious name to include and I would love to hear Joni Mitchell talk about her early life and experience recording her album, Blue. It is thrilling imagining the legendary musicians who could appear on stage in the U.S./U.K. and what their show would look like. Bruce Springsteen is not the first artist to melt music and storytelling on the stage but, as I said, it is not that common in these times. I often think we digest music at such a rate and, even if we have such a passion for someone, do we take time to consider the songs or think about what the words mean? Past that, do we wonder where the artist came from and what drives them? Springsteen’s Broadway show attracted those who were not even huge fans of The Boss – curious to know more about a man who has helped change music. I have mentioned a few artists that would be great for a Springsteen-type show and, as we head through the year, surely others will be thinking about it.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Joni Mitchell photoed for New York Magazine in 2015/PHOTO CREDIT: Norman Jean Roy

The reason why Bruce Springsteen’s hit captured the imagination is because we got to see a more personal and intimate side of an artist known for a certain bombast, passion and energy. So many gigs, even from huge artists, do not have a lot of chat between songs and you do not really get a sense of how tracks came to be and who the artist is away from the stage. There are artists who do a Las Vegas residency – such as Elton John and Lady Gaga – but that is going in the other direction: a much more theatrical and glitzy show. Stripping away the layers and lights; having this different setting brings something new from artists we have not seen before. I love Bruce Springsteen’s work and wish I could have been in the Broadway audience. Now that the show has been performed and broadcast, many have a new fondness for Springsteen and he has recruited many new fans. I cannot wait to see where the ripples head and which other artists step in the same direction as the legendary Springsteen. We all know him from huge hits such as Born in the U.S.A., Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark but how much do we understand of the man behind the classics? If you can see Springsteen on Broadway then do as it is a magnificent thing and revelatory show! It seems like The Boss himself loved the experience and I hub it rubs off...

ON other artists.