Convincing someone to listen to your life story using just a guitar, harmonica and piano is not an easy task, but it is one that Bruce Springsteen has been doing five days a week for more than a year. Springsteen began his residency at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York city on the evening of October 3, 2017. From then, he played 236 shows to more than 220,000 people in what ultimately became the most successful one-man show on Broadway.
Hours after the final performance and after shelling out $20 million for the rights, Netflix premiered the experience for all of those who were not fortunate enough to get a much-coveted ticket to see.
“Springsteen on Broadway” fits right in with Springsteen’s most recent activities including his biography “Born to Run” and the accompanying album “Chapter and Verse” in that all three have been glimpses into the life of Bruce Springsteen in a way that is clearly very meaningful to him. The show is nothing like the typical high-octane Springsteen concert. This is to be expected, though, given the acoustic nature of the shows and because throughout the entire run, the only other E-Street band member to join Springsteen on stage was his wife, Patti Scialfa.
The show begins with Springsteen describing his art before transitioning into the first story — his first experience playing guitar. Appropriately, he then launches into the song “Growin Up.” This intro is representative of the rest of the show. There are talking pieces — anecdotes from Springsteen’s life or observations — lasting about 10 minutes each, followed by a relevant song.
The songs more or less are played in chronological order and truly provide a great snapshot of the range of style that Springsteen has explored over his prolific career. The context of the songs is revealed through the stories that they accompany.
As the show progresses, it becomes evident how willing Springsteen is to open up to the audience and share some deeply personal stories. This level of personalization really makes the show feel like an individual experience, even through a TV screen.
While the show does not provide an opportunity to see new songs performed live for the first time by one of the best in the business, it is anything but stale. Springsteen keeps the show interesting by playing songs rarely seen in other live performances of his.
Also, the acoustic nature allows Springsteen to play some songs closer to how he originally imagined them. This is fully displayed with a haunting rendition of “Born in the USA” that better captures the tone that Springsteen intended better than the upbeat style of the album version.
Although some of the stories Springsteen tells were pulled from his recent biography, the performance still has merits for those who read the book. Something about having Springsteen himself tell the stories in the way he does and pair them with the songs he does adds a gravity that is lost by simply reading a book, and that extra element truly makes this two and a half hours well spent.