To call New York City’s 975-seat Walter Kerr Theatre intimate may seem a bit hyperbolic, but when the artist on stage is Bruce Springsteen, that is exactly how it feels. “The Boss” can sell out massive arenas in minutes, so witnessing him perform on that tiny stage is akin to being invited into his living room for a private concert.
Springsteen on Broadway is an emotional show – for both Bruce Springsteen (who is exposing himself like never before) and for the assembly of fans (who will likely never see their idol in such a raw performance again).
The two-hour, intermissionless performance is fairly evenly split between story and song. The autobiographical stories are presented in chronological order with career-spanning songs woven in where appropriate. Together, this technique provides quite a powerful show – one that resonates long after leaving the theater.
Bruce Springsteen begins by recounting stories about his childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, and his relationship with his family. This includes a strained connection with his father and an equally loving one with his mother. This section of the show includes performances of such song as “Growin’ Up,” “My Hometown,” “My Father’s House,” and “The Wish.” Generally speaking, Bruce alternates between guitar and piano with each new song over the course of the evening.
The next grouping starts with “Thunder Road” and features stories about leaving home in an attempt to make it in the rough-and-tumble music industry. There was a particularly poignant story about meeting Ron Kovic – celebrated veteran and author of Born on the Fourth of July – and how that would later partially inspire his protest song “Born in the U.S.A.” The Springsteen on Broadway rendition of that classic was virtually unrecognizable, which only increased its impact. Hearing those lyrics without the familiar musical accompaniment cut right to the heart and renegotiated the song’s relevance as an archetype of political protest.
At this point, Springsteen pays tribute to the E Street Band. He stopped in the middle of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” to talk about their contributions to his career and in particular, the importance of Clarence Clemons. It was clear that the audience agreed with Bruce as the ovation for the saxophonist’s contributions was extended and deafening. This was the perfect time for Springsteen to bring out his wife and E Street Band member, Patti Scialfa. They harmonized beautifully on “Tougher Than the Rest” and “Brilliant Disguise.”
The final portion of the show has a nostalgic feel to it. “Long Walk Home” was one of the highlights of the evening. Springsteen talked about finding our way out of dark times before launching into “Dancing in the Dark” and “Land of Hope and Dreams.” It is worth mentioning that while Bruce Springsteen is always political and clearly has opinions about the current state of the world, he masterfully navigated making his feelings known without crossing into controversial territory. As sad as it was to see the evening end, one could not ask for a more appropriate closer than “Born to Run.”
In many ways, Springsteen on Broadway feels like the culmination of a career. I wouldn’t be shocked to hear Bruce announce his retirement – at least from touring – as the Broadway run draws to a close. While at the same time, the uniqueness of this run of shows could reinvigorate a man whose energy and stamina seem to know no bounds. Either way, Springsteen on Broadway is a performance his legion of fans must see. Given that tickets are all but impossible to obtain at this point, I certainly hope they elect to film this show before the run on the Great White Way ends.
Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.