Springsteen is a rock ’n’ roll revelation in ‘Broadway’
“I’ve never done an honest day’s work, I’ve never worked 9 to 5, I’ve never done any hard labor, and yet, it is all I’ve written about,” Bruce Springsteen yells from the stage about 10 minutes into Springsteen on Broadway, to riotous applause from the crowd.
Springsteen must’ve known the joke would land, a winking allusion to a life devoted to a different type of labor. The 68year-old artist’s ascent from New Jersey dives to the world’s largest stages is an essential part of rock ’n’ roll mythology.
Yet, Broadway is one of the great equalizers, its physical demands capable of humbling even the most seasoned entertainers. With Springsteen on Broadway, which opened Thursday, fans aren’t just paying to see their hero at the intimate Walter Kerr Theatre. They’re paying to see him tussle with a different kind of beast.
And it’s quite a show, as Springsteen delivers two hours and 15 songs worth of memories, and revelations, and — for some — plenty of tears.
Springsteen conceptualized the show after playing a January 2017 set in the Oval Office for then-President Obama and his staff. Springsteen borrows generously from his 2016 memoir, Born To Run, for the lengthy monologues.
That means die-hards will recognize passages from his book.
Does that ruin the magic? Maybe for some. But not for the audience that cheered during one preview show, as Springsteen presented his bill of sale in the show’s opening moments — cribbed from the foreword of Born, but no less evocative.
“I am here to provide proof of life to that ever-elusive, never completely believable ‘us,’ ” he recites. “That is my magic trick. And like all good magic tricks, it begins with a setup. So …”
With that, he takes off into Growin’ Up, standing in front of dingy brick walls in a stagehand’s uniform of black shirt and pants.
The show’s narrative doesn’t contain any revelations for fans, as Springsteen guides his audience through vividly imagined scenes of his small-town upbringing through his move West.
Springsteen lets one of rock’s most enduring love stories speak for itself, bringing out Patti Scialfa to duet on Tougher Than the Rest and Brilliant Disguise. He honors another of his great loves, the late Clarence Clemons, during a raucous Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.
Springsteen dispenses with the exposition in its final stretch, and that’s when things get cosmic. The singer steps into the role of rock ’n’ roll preacher, invoking Martin Luther King Jr. and the Lord’s Prayer as he sermonizes on his country and his craft.
If the tears haven’t yet flowed, have Kleenex ready for the show’s ending, with a breathtaking pair of medleys — Long Walk Home/ The Rising and Dancing in the Dark/Land of Hope and Dreams — that end with Springsteen blessing the crowd, thanking them for serving as his traveling companions, and closing with a meditative take on Born to Run.
“This is what I have pursued as my service,” he says as part of his farewell. “This I have presented to you as my long and noisy prayer, as my magic trick.”
Patti Scialfa duets with husband Bruce in Springsteen on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre.