Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday/Wednesday - Friday/Saturday through December 15, $75-$800
A few minutes into Springsteen on Broadway, sirens could be heard outside the Walter Kerr Theatre. Bruce, who was standing at the front microphone, acoustic guitar strapped across his chest, backed away, looked offstage, and said, “They’re coming to get me. They know I don’t belong here.” If there’s one thing the New Jersey native has proved since October 3, 2017, it’s that he is right at home on the Great White Way, so much so that what was initially a limited run through November 26 of that year has been extended several times, now through December 15 of this year. And despite most tickets going for $400 to $800 a pop, the shows still sold out in minutes. The Boss is famous for his four-hour concerts with the E Street Band, but Springsteen on Broadway is more reminiscent of his solo tours behind such records as The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust. Yet it is not a concert; written and directed by Bruce, Springsteen on Broadway is a moving, powerful exploration of a man and his innate, unquenchable desire to become a successful musician. Inspired by a secret performance he presented to President Barack Obama and about 250 White House staffers as a thank-you just before the end of Obama’s second term, Springsteen has crafted a two-hour show that combines personal stories from his childhood to the current day with songs from throughout his career. Many of the intimate tales are adapted from his bestselling 2016 memoir, Born to Run, but this is no mere book reading with music. The sixty-eight-year-old Springsteen has always been an engaging storyteller, and he takes it to the next level on Broadway, unafraid to reveal his faults along with his triumphs. As he details, years of therapy have helped him face his demons.
On the road, Springsteen changes his setlist night after night, playing deep cuts, reinventing old favorites, and taking requests, reacting to signs held up in the crowd, but Springsteen on Broadway is a much tighter affair, even if it feels loose and improvisational. Heather Wolensky’s spare set evokes the feel of a small club, with music trunks scattered about, a piano at stage left, a glass of water on a stool, and a bare brick wall, with no adornment anywhere. Going back and forth between guitar and piano, Springsteen, in a black T-shirt, boots, and jeans, plays fifteen songs related to episodes from his life, from acquiring his first guitar to jamming in clubs in Asbury Park, from falling in love to raising a family. He discusses his relationship with both his father, which he has documented in many songs, and his beloved mother, for whom he wrote one of his sweetest tunes. He often steps away from the microphone while continuing to talk or sing, his voice fading from the speakers but instead gently and dramatically drifting across the theater. To give away any of the numbers would be unfair, so you’ll find no spoilers here, but know that he doesn’t stray from the script, except for a few shows when his wife, singer-songwriter Patti Scialfa, was sick and he replaced one section of the show with a different story and song about raising his kids.
And proper etiquette demands that you don’t sing along; at one point, as some audience members started to join Bruce on one of his biggest hits, he stopped and said, “You know this is a fucking one-man show, right?” He later encouraged audience participation on a treasured classic. “My vision of these shows is to make them as personal and intimate as possible. I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theaters which seemed like the right setting for what I have in mind,” Springsteen explained in a statement announcing the run. “My show is just me, the guitar, the piano, and the words and music. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung, all of it together is in pursuit of my constant goal — to communicate something of value.” As he has been doing since the late 1960s, Springsteen has again communicated something of value. Early in the show, the Grammy, Oscar, and now Tony winner — Bruce has been awarded a special Tony for his “once-in-a-lifetime theatregoing experience” — notes that he has spent his entire existence avoiding the dreaded five-day-a-week job. But now he can’t get enough of it, all told spending more than a year on Broadway, sharing his poignant, personal, life-affirming story as only he can.