Springsteen on Broadway

by Cassandra Csencsitz

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday January 27, 2018

Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen  (Source:Associated Press)

He did it again. In the midst of another man's heartbreak, Bruce Springsteen realigned the stars. His ability to do this is a self-described "magic trick," not escapism but the truth: hope may be audacious, even foolhardy, but there is no other way to live. In the face of adult responsibilities, we will do well to embrace our pressures with humor and joy. We will also do well to be nostalgic, be Freudian, do whatever it takes to understand our origins, to keep the memories of childhood alive, to let them warm our - dare I say it - hungry hearts.

The folks Bruce blessed on this occasion weren't lovesick Jersey girls, nor broad back boys elated to hear their song sung. They were the first-generation New Yorkers - by way of Superior, Wisconsin and Hooker's Point (no joke) Florida - that filled my seats.

Reeling from a petty, predatory lawsuit that laid siege to my husband's restaurant in 2017, we took our cups to Bruce's well in search of more than music. The six-month strain had left me playing Penelope to weary Odysseus, a shoe that doesn't quite fit, and my husband was close to losing perspective while my patience was running thin. More curative than our wildest dreams, "Springsteen on Broadway" could be a playbook for how to fight pain with pleasure, on how to be grateful for any "reason to open [y]our eyes at the break of day ... " (Bruce thanks his mom for that; so do we.) And yes, it also provides the multiple highs of sensational music that somehow stops time while tickling nerve endings of body and brain.

Shuffling - yes shuffling, not sauntering - onto the stage, rock and roll's great empathizer took the mic in character and began reciting the opening of his autobiography, Born To Run. I was suddenly nervous for him, with good reason. He was auditioning for a new role in our lives, a new level of respect underneath the gold-leafed vaults of The Walter Kerr Theater. He seemed momentarily awkward before 939 souls working hard to restrain ourselves from the usual Bruce-induced, Dionysian catharsis. It was nearly impossible not to sing along with tunes so near and dear, but he hushed us by making each one so new, and fitting it so theatrically into the narrative of his life, we were quick to suspend our disbelief. So this is the backstory he's been burning so hard to tell us that he's holding down "the steadiest job of his life" - five days a week on Broadway.

In Shakespeare's day, audiences knew the material well. This was the closest I've gotten to that Bard's groundlings - every intimate self-deprecating joke, "I've made a career writing about things of which I have zero experience," landing with the force of recognition. Where Bruce was unfamiliar was in his theatricality and the ways he made "Springsteen" a play: un-mic'd asides, anthropomorphizing his guitar and accompanying himself on piano at a storyteller's pace like the half-Irishman he is. It was a deft interweaving of fifteen songs spanning forty years with bits from the book and some new connective tissue. Too smart to be sentimental, too cut with comedy to be saccharine, the occasional purity of love and joy - such as in his 1987 ode to mama, "The Wish" - was almost too much to bear. (It followed a hearty laugh earned by the gutting "My Father's House," after which he jested, "Okay I'm gonna call you off suicide watch now.")

If the theatre normally serves up illusions, this was about shattering them. Messianic at Madison Square, God was made mortal on 48th Street. The ageless rocker who was grinding his mic stand in Kilkenny when last I saw him, inciting a lusty frenzy with his shiny arms, let it all hang out at the Walter Kerr. Whether the Broadway schedule is making a dent in his notorious gym regimen or he's seeking a different type of release, he pulled no cosmetic rabbits to seem taller or bigger, to blur his hairline, or to washboard his stomach. He even called his young self "pathetically creepy" in comparison to Elvis, "an Adonis" who, from the book, " ... was a man who didn't see it coming ... he WAS it coming, and without him, white America, you would not look or act or think the way you do." Though it's impossible to imagine Bruce Springsteen as pathetic or creepy, this was a part of the shtick to de-deify himself: on hearing outside sirens, he quipped, "They know I don't belong here." We roar. It was beautifully un-vain, and it worked.

Setting another record straight, if you ever wondered how the world's most desirable almost-septuagenarian has kept the faith, you need only see him and Patti share the mic microbially close, as if competing for its amplification powers, to feel their mutual tension and respect. Case closed.

My tear trickle turned to torrents when the show, which could have ended beautifully at many points, was ticked past the two-hour mark by my childhood family song, "Dancing in the Dark," a number Bruce has dismissed as a hit-writing assignment but whose deeper dimensions he's clearly discovered (I could have told him). Going from a Big Band version I saw on the Wrecking Ball tour to a slow retelling I've been dreaming of, giving full voice to the song's introspection and culminating in a line that often comes to my aid: "you can't start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart." Shame on the navel-gazer! With my ecstasy about to peak, he sent me over the top with an unexpected transition into my adult anthem, "Land of Hope and Dreams." With its chorus line "big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams," it's at once "My Antonia!" and Millet. I ascended into heaven.

Religious references in Bruce abound, from the overt - "God have mercy on the man who doubts what he's sure of" - to his confessional style and the revival feeling of his concerts. His relationship with the church and its theatricality was untangled for me by his book and could be summed up as "shake it till you make it." As futile to try and run from his Catholic upbringing as from New Jersey state, he's bent both to his needs. This gets literal toward the show's end when he goes so far as to recite lines from the Lord's Prayer. For me to whom the liturgy is also dear, the sudden incantation was disquieting - maybe a little too sobering.

Yes, I got a golden ticket. And like a kid in a candy shop, there wasn't a note or word that didn't satisfy my cravings for the music and wisdom from rock 'n' roll's Orphic philosopher-king. With material enough for a ten-play cycle, as the erudite pages of "Born To Run" make plain, if Bruce could play forever, we'd never take our eyes off him. It was a great honor to get inside his magical factory, to get healed for a night and take away lessons that stick. Should I make it to heaven's gates, I hope it's Bruce blowing the horn.

"Springsteen on Broadway" runs through June 30, 2018 at The Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St. in New York, New York 10036. For information or tickets, visit www.ticketmaster.com/Springsteen-on-Broadway-NY-tickets/artist/2402345

Cassandra Csencsitz is a New York-based arts and beauty writer. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Kalamazoo College and Master of Arts from St. John's College's Great Books Program. Cassandra met her husband in Greece on the University of Detroit Mercy's Classical Theatre Program and they are now the bemused parents of two. Cassandra is the Communications Director for Trish McEvoy Beauty.