Springsteen on Broadway: A New York City Serenade
By Alex Rice
Who knew Bruce Springsteen was such a 30 Rock fan? Eight years after Tracy Morgan’s sitcom self popularized the pursuit of hitting for the award show cycle (winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony in one’s career), The Boss made his bid for the EGOT equivalent of a triple - the Tony - just three blocks from NBC headquarters.
Other than extending three-minute pop songs into eight-minute stage spectacles and blindsiding unsuspecting diehards with 40-year-old deep cuts, weaving a narrative through line between the thirty-odd numbers he chooses to play on a given night is what Springsteen does best in the live arena. Nobody doubted that Bruce could pull off a two-and-a-half-hour one-man show about his life. He could and did keep Midtown Manhattan’s 975-capacity Walter Kerr Theatre enraptured five nights a week for 14 months, but could the man who has thrived solely on spontaneity for five decades keep himself entertained while sticking to the script?
“I’ve never worked five days a week until right now,” Boss joked about 15 minutes into each of Springsteen on Broadway’s 236 runnings, roaming the stage like a stand-up comedian (one of Bruce’s most endearing non-musical qualities is how humorous he finds himself to be). He would, unfailingly, then scream in faux frustration, “I hate it!”
Fifty feet from the stage, those between-song monologues were just as gripping as thrilling solo renditions - just Bruce and his guitar or piano - of ‘70s classics like “Thunder Road” and “The Promised Land.” They always included a self-deprecating rap about how he was a phony who had never seen the inside of a factory. As the audience was invited into his brain, though, it became clear that he doesn’t have a fake bone in his body. Bruce’s best works tend to harbor a wide-eyed, childlike optimism in their worldview, and that young, working-class boy was on full display on Broadway. In his unrequited admiration for his factory worker dad (“My Father’s House”), his unbridled love for his doting mother (“The Wish”) and his adult self’s dogged dedication to his lover (“Tougher Than the Rest,” one of two songs featuring Bruce’s better half since 1991, Patti Scialfa).
At an average of $500 a ticket (if you were lucky enough to snag one on Ticketmaster before they immediately sold out or, like me, wake up at 5 a.m. to wait outside the theater and hope for a tiny release of returned tickets), with a strict no-photo policy and alcohol that made arena beer feel like a bargain, this was not your run-of-the-mill Springsteen show (as if such a thing exists). Still, little moments of the proverbial E Street Band gig shone through. The energetic whimsy of “Growin’ Up.” The participatory “Big Man joined the band” tribute during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” The affirming, unifying light at the end of the tunnel of “The Rising” and “Land of Hope and Dreams.”
As for that Tony, the right fielder didn’t even try for the put-out as Springsteen slid safely into third. Now that he’s got his Tony, I’m sure Bruce is hard at work on a small-screen adaptation of “Jungleland.” You know that would be a home run.
Alex Rice is the founder of Bandbox. His writing has appeared in the Denver Post, Guitar World and Minneapolis's City Pages.