Theater Review: ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

By: 
Ben Miles

He’s back, on Broadway that is. As of June 26, 2021, “Springsteen on Broadway” is the first show to open (or in this case, to reopen) on Broadway. Though tickets are in short supply due to high demand, don’t worry. Netflix subscribers have unlimited access to a filmed version of Springsteen’s autobiographical show as it was being staged at the Walter Kerr Theatre (it’s now on the boards with some slight alterations at the St. James Theatre).

Based on his autobiography, “Born to Run,” and with Thom Zimny’s literally by-the-numbers direction, Springsteen conveys his extraordinary ability to relate as an Everyman despite his decades of success. His authenticity is raw and impressive in this (mostly) single man-o-logue, though his wife of nearly three decades, Patti Scialfa, does join him for about 15 minutes in this two-and-a-half hour show for a couple of love-affirming duets.

Making no secret that he sees himself as an illusionist — he’s never held a workaday job and though the title of one of his biggest recording successes is, like the title of his life story, “Born to Run,” he lives just a few miles from where he grew up in Freehold, New Jersey. Springsteen, like a master trickster, has the ability to convince us that he’s been there and done that. He equates it to a magician’s skill; others may see it as the ability to imagine and empathize.

For those who are Springsteen devotees and for those who are intrigued by creative souls, “Springsteen on Broadwayis essential viewing. Simple yet profound, Springsteen strums his guitar, plays the piano and harmonica, and retells stories from his unique lifetime, including his strained relationship with his factory-working father and his maternal bond with his mother, a former legal secretary, and now at 93 a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. He recounts his chance meeting in California with “Born on the 4th” of July author Ron Kovic, the paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who became much of the inspiration for the Springsteen anthem “Born in the U.S.A.”

Yes, Springsteen reveals himself through this Broadway staging. He is rough, raw and uncensored in this touching no-holds-barred show and, yes, we are able to revel in Springsteen’s stripped down versions of his rock ‘n roll masterpieces, such as “Thunder Road,” “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” “Dancing in the Darkand, of course, “Born to Run.” We also learn of the bonding between Springsteen and the late saxophonist Clarence Clemons, aka The Big Man. It was a fond friendship forged through their musical creations and shared stage time.

For those of us not ready or willing to visit The Great White Way, a front row seat to “Springsteen on Broadway” is readily available through subscribing to Netflix.

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