The Boss takes on Broadway

Rock musician Bruce Springsteen will perform in Springsteen On Broadway five nights a week until February.
Rock musician Bruce Springsteen will perform in Springsteen On Broadway five nights a week until February.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Maybe former United States president Barack Obama can take some credit for inspiring rocker Bruce Springsteen's foray to Broadway, starting tomorrow.

The new venture can be traced back to the White House.

On Jan 12, in the last weeks of the Obama administration, Springsteen played an acoustic concert in the East Room as the Obama family's parting gift for about 250 staff.

For Springsteen, who takes every performance seriously, it was a moment of reckoning. He carefully assembled a set list spanning his career. He illuminated the songs with spoken stories and memories echoing Born To Run, the autobiography he published last year.

"There was a lot of storytelling, which goes back to our early days at the Bottom Line when you were in front of a couple of hundred people," Springsteen said, recalling the Greenwich Village club where his shows in the summer of 1975 became a sensation. "It worked in a very intimate setting."

Heading home from Washington, Springsteen and his wife, Ms Patti Scialfa, and his manager, Mr Jon Landau, thought more people should experience a performance like that.

The result, nine months later, is Springsteen On Broadway, which begins previews tomorrow and continues five nights a week until February.

The show will be staged at the 960-seat Walter Kerr Theatre, which was built in 1929 and has been the home of more Pulitzer-and Tony-winning productions than any other Broadway theatre.

It will take Springsteen a month to perform for the number of fans he could draw at one arena show.

"Our idea was to respect Broadway as a unique place and to try and do what's customary as long as our creative needs were being met," Mr Landau said, listing off what he called "the conventions of Broadway".

"The show starts, there's absolute silence. People stay in their seats." He added: "It invites a certain decorum and a certain atmosphere that is conducive to the nuances of what Bruce does with this particular show."

The 68-year-old Springsteen is certainly not showing any signs of Broadway stage fright.

Here is an edited version of his thoughts on his new venture. You have been singing for decades about people who are unemployed, cast aside, left behind - a forgotten working class that apparently turned to then presidential candidate Donald Trump last year.

I think it's still difficult times, in the sense that the deindustrialisation that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s was devastating to a whole segment of the population. And those issues were never addressed by either the Republicans or the Democrats.

It's a complex problem. It involves global technology and I don't know the answers. But I know that there was a large part of the population that ended up disenfranchised and I think that Mr Trump tapped into those feelings with a lot of his rhetoric at the time.

Do you go to Broadway shows?

I saw Hamilton. I guess that was the last thing I've seen.

But you did not try to write a Broadway musical.

I think it takes a set of completely different skills. It's not like, oh, I'll write 12 songs and kind of stick them together somehow.

And I've never been good at, say, writing to script. In other words, "Now, I need a song about (a certain subject)." I've never written like that. I've always written about what's pressing itself upon me at a given moment.

You've always been a musician. You never had a nine-to-five job.  But Springsteen On Broadway is five nights a week for five months.

This is my first real job, I think. That's the one thing I'm going into with a certain sense of faith.

I go, well, I'm not using myself so totally physically on a nightly basis. And I'm not using my voice - you know, you're not screaming.

"But the mental energy that it takes to do it is the same. People come to see you be completely present.

You say the show and stories are locked in. Would that not become repetitive for you?

I've played Born To Run (1975) many times. But the key is, you have to approach it not as a repetition, but as a renewal. To do that, your spirit has to be 100 per cent present. It's a new audience every night.

Those songs have been good to me over the years and, in return, I try to be good to them.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2017, with the headline 'The Boss takes on Broadway'. Print Edition | Subscribe