I have to be one of the few diehard Springsteen fans that had, until this past Wednesday, never seen him live or on stage. I hung back on campus with envy in 1984 as my dorm mates went off to a Born In The USA concert in LA and all I got was a not-so lousy T-shirt.
Technically, Springsteen on Broadway is just that--a Broadway show, not a concert. Read his book and you have the text and framework of the performance. The intimate space of the Walter Kerr Theater is precisely what appealed to me. Rites of Springsteen you'll recognize if you've been to his concerts: the chanting of "Bruuuuuce", standing O's and Bruce's storytelling, steeped in nostalgia.
Above all else, Springsteen is a storyteller, reminiscent of great American authors like Raymond Carver and Phillip Roth. Like them, his stories tap into the working class ethos and the powerful imprint one's hometown has on self. These are stories where simple everyday images evoke powerful emotions. In Springsteen's case, powerful enough to inspire prayer. Which he offers upon finding the roots of a tree, all that remain, of his boyhood climbing tree.
Springsteen's small town shore-inspired tales are quintessentially New Jersey tales. Part fiction, which he owns and acknowledges as part of the "magic". And of course, the irony; he penned "Racing in the Streets", words from a man who drove cross country having never driven before. The magic is self-revealed both on stage and in his wonderful memoir with concise eloquence, "I had four clean aces. I had youth, almost a decade of hardcore bar band experience, a good group of homegrown musicians who were attuned to my performance style and a story to tell."
Sitting at the piano, he plays "Thunder Road" amidst a moving tribute to Clarence Clemons. He gives props to Danny Federici, but doesn't mention, as he does in the memoir, that Federici learned to play the accordion at the age of 7 by watching The Lawrence Welk Show.
Like many things sacred and holy and spiritual, it's tough to find the words to describe Springsteen on Broadway. Something feels complete, though, when Patti Scialfa joins Bruce to sing "Brilliant Disguise" and "Tougher Than The Rest". Mature love, circle of life and all that stuff. Aging, redemption, grace. It's all here. Above all else, faith. And in the words of a Springsteen song not performed in the show " I believe in the love that you gave me,I believe in the faith that can save me,I believe in the hope and I pray,That someday it may raise me."