Springsteen on Broadway (2018)
Springsteen on Broadway is an evocative wonderland. It's a phenomenon that speaks to our better angels. It reawakens our dormant souls. It gives us solace and entices our humanity.
And the Boss - Bruce Springsteen - is the wounded but conquering angel that is in charge.
A man stands in a black t-shirt on a stage in near-darkness. He invites us on a spectacular journey that he himself is travelling and has travelled.
He begins a 2 1/2 hour thundering display of light and sound - engaging charm and personal contemplation.
He plays guitars, piano, and harmonica. He tells stories about himself, his family, his friends, the audience, and America. It is a fervent hymn.
I can't remember a more intelligent, compassionate, persuasive experience. My better angels who have been in hiding have been jolted to life again.
Springsteen on Broadway, after 236 performances, ended its run Saturday night, December 15, 2018. A documentary compilation from 2 days of the stage performances appeared on Netflix the following day. He endured 236 grueling, intense performances on stage at the Walter Kerr Theater It was a remarkable accomplishment.
Springsteen outdid all the superheroes on screen in 2018. How could any human being survive that personal assault on his own talent and being? And prevail? Forces of nature do their thing.
Obviously, Springsteen on Broadway is a labor of love. Springsteen embarked on a search for love.
He tells about love for his mother, now "seven years into Altheimer's," but still with the unquenchable will to dance. We almost can hear the clicking heels his mother wore, when Bruce accompanied her down the street or in the halls at work. Her spirit embued Bruce's life.
His difficult relationship with his distant father ends with a story of when his father came to Los Angeles when Bruce's wife was going to have a child and they had a communication they'd never had before. And love was freed from its bonds.
He expresses his love for Patti Scialfa, his wife of 31 years, as she appears on stage to join him in two songs. He says she is strong... "and fragile." One of Bruce's best gifts is his pausing before he delivers a punch line. He knows how to manipulate humor.
He says of the mythic experience he sings about, "I made it all up." He takes a pause. "That's how good I am."
Bruce speaks of his love for sax player, Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, "He was elemental in my life. And losing him was like losing the rain."
And he talks about the love of his best friend growing up - the big tree outside his house. He returns as an adult, and the tree is gone. Only some roots remain in the dirt, but Bruce says its soul is still in the air. And that comforted him.
Nature and America are two of his major themes. He loves the desert and the endless space of America's horizons.
Springsteen is Whitmanesque. When he stands on stage speaking about his country one can image it is Walt Whitman. They share a "barbaric yawp," and a transcendental vision of America.
Springsteen was influenced by Elvis and John Steinbeck - his song about Tom Joad is compelling, but Whitman may be his most basic influence. Nothing is said of Whitman, but he is potently present.
One may not go to Springsteen to hear his singing voice, but to listen to his words, the magic of his performance.
In Springsteen on Broadway, Springsteen's version of "Dancing in the Dark" is both tender and explosive. It's full-out, raging fire of music. It rings in your ears for days. Bruce sings for all of us gunslingers, even us bad-shooters.
The direction by Thom Zimny spares us from shots of the audience. We see them from behind and once in front of Bruce. But there's no reaction shots of audience members' delight. That's a great decision, because it's just Bruce and us. I don't need no stinking audience.
Bruce does get political near the end of his performance, but it's more about America than any politics. It's about idealism that we all can share.
I assume some people will reject this show, but to me that would be like rejecting humanity.
Bruce Springsteen gives us a personal path.
He says, "I wanted to know the whole American story." He continues, "Most of all, I wanted to tell that story to you. This is what I presented all those years as my long and noisy prayer. As my magic trick."
Ultimately, Bruce Springsteen declares, "I wanted to ROCK your very soul."
Message received, Bruce. Message received.