I have been asked over and over what Springsteen on Broadway is about, what is the format, and is it JUST HIM? The answers are multifaceted.
Springsteen on Broadway is a one-man show, with a guest appearance by his lovely and talented wife Patti Scialfa Springsteen. It is not a concert, but a performance that includes live acoustic versions of Springsteen songs, accompanied by commentary, stories, conversation, philosophies, and testimonies…yes testimonies on the most formative and important parts of Springsteen’s life – childhood and hometown memories, his mom, dad, immediate and extended family, friendships, music, the E Street Band, his wife, his love for our country and the American Dream, politics, religion/spirituality, as well as his outlook on what is most important in life for all of us, the magic of 1+1=3.
“It is the essential equation of love, there is no love without 1+1 equaling 3! It’s the essential equation of art. It’s the essential equation of rock and roll. It’s the reason the universe will never be fully comprehensible. It is the reason ‘Louie Louie’ will never be fully comprehensible, and it is the reason true rock and roll and true rock and roll bands will never die.”
He also says that the first time he heard his wife’s beautiful voice was when she sang “I Know Something About Love” at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. ‘And she does”, he says upon introducing her to the audience. I might add that he does too.
Springsteen shares his best known, as well as and some less known and new melodies, with the audience, but only once he has set up the song by providing context to his own life – and hence providing context to ours. Perhaps the best way to describe the show is through its roots and how the show started in the East Room of the White House and landed on Broadway.
When President Obama was leaving the White House, he asked Bruce to give a private performance to his staff. “There was something I specifically wanted to do for the staff that had been with me for the entire journey and had gone through a really remarkable but grueling process. So, we get this idea. Maybe we can just do something small and quiet and private — 100 people and maybe Bruce will be willing to come in and just do a quick concert. You show up and we got like about 10 guitars sitting over there on a rack and you got the piano. Patti says to me, ‘Yeah, I don’t really know what he’s going to do.’ ”
Bruce’s memoir “Born to Run” had recently been published, so he decided to take anecdotes from his book and turn them into live storytelling accompanied by acoustic versions of his songs. After the 90-minute performance, the President said, Dude, you, you got to do that for some other people,’ ” Obama said. “I can’t be this greedy where we’re the only ones who get to hear this?”
“Springsteen on Broadway” ran at the Walter Kerr Theatre for 236 performances to rave reviews. The show debuted on Broadway on Oct. 3, 2017, and the premiere was Oct. 12, 2017. The final performance was Dec. 15, 2018. Springsteen won a Special Tony Award for the work, which features biographic interludes between song performances. This show can also be seen on Netflix.
This time around, Bruce surprised us all by reopening Broadway with a 30-show limited run. For the large part of the summer, his was the only show open on Broadway. While the essence of the show is the same overall as the first show, the tone and tenor of it is perhaps even more personal, more conversational, and more current – addressing the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, his recent recording with the E Street Band, and Renegades: Born in the USA podcast with President Obama, as well as his recent arrest – with his self-deprecating humor when referring to having to go to Zoom court and finding comfort (not!) in the United States of America vs. Bruce Springsteen!
The show also features four different songs: “American Skin” a blazing rendition of “Fire”, a fiery duet with his fiery-redheaded wife Patti, and the beautifully poignant “I’ll See you in my Dreams” from his recent album “Letter to You” with the E Street Band.
The St. James Theater was also a bit bigger than the Walter Kerr, but just as intimate, lending itself to the same feeling as being in the living room with the Boss himself as he shared his heart and soul with all of us. He truly is one of the greatest storytellers alive, sharing tales with great detail, delivered with just the right timing, humor, expression, and (tears!) authenticity of emotion.
One of the most poignant moments this time around was in his description of his friends Walter and Raymond Cichon, and Bart Haines, friends and music gods from back in the day down on the Jersey Shore. All three of those friends would go onto Vietnam and would never return. It would have been Walter Cichon’s 75th birthday last week, and his sons were in the audience. “I often wonder who went in my place….because somebody did.”, said Bruce, followed by a particularly rousing version of Born in the USA where no one could ever possibly misunderstand the meaning of that very important song.
For me, the show evoked different emotions, memories, and personal points of reference each time I saw it. It is the most cathartic show I have ever experienced, and one I would see over and over again as it makes me feel closer to my own self, my family, my friends, my own memories, my own values. Taking that journey with the Boss (who also happens to be my personal hero)? Well that is beyond the icing on the cake. The show was recently filmed, so I expect it to come to a streaming platform near you. In the meantime, watch the first run on Netflix. Even if you are not a Springsteen fan, you will appreciate this man’s gifts, the arc of his life and career, and somehow might find something similar to your own.
Toward the end of the show, he shares his purpose. “ I always thought I was a typical American, so I fought my whole life and I studied and I played and I worked, ’cause I wanted to hear and I wanted to know the whole American story. I wanted to know my story, and your story. Felt like I needed to understand as much of it as I could in order to understand myself. You know, who was I? And where I came from and what that meant. What did it mean to my family? Where was I going? And where were we going together as a people? And then, and, what did it mean to be an American? And to be a part of that story, in this place, and in this time. I wanted to be able to celebrate and honor its beauty, its power, and I wanted to be able to be a critical voice when I thought that that’s what the times called for. But most of all, more than anything else, I wanted to be able to tell that story well to you. That was my young promise to myself, and this was my young promise to you. From when I was a very young man, I took my fun very seriously, you know. And this is what I pursue as my service, I still believe in it as such. This is what I have presented to you all these years as my long and noisy prayer, as my magic trick. I wanted, I wanted to rock your very soul, and have you bring it home and pass it on, and I wanted it to be sung and altered by you and your folks and your children, should they be interested. I wanted it to be something you could call on when things were good, and uh, and when things were not so good – that it might strengthen, help make sense of your story and your life the way that you strengthen me and help me make sense of my life. You’ve provided me with purpose, with meaning, and with a great, great amount of joy. I hope I’ve done that for you and that I’ve been a good travelling companion.”
Indeed he has been one for me throughout my life, will continue to travel with me on my own life’s journey, and is helping me to find my own 1+1=3/aka magic trick. I know that if you watch, he could help you find yours too.