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‘Springsteen on Broadway’ soul-stirring but don’t dare sing along

“Springsteen on Broadway” is intimate and persuasive, satisfying and soul-stirring as it tells the personal journey of an American classic.

But it’s definitely not a sing-along. The Boss reminded his audience of that.

Fans couldn’t resist joining in on “Dancing in the Dark” at the performance I attended.

But Bruce Springsteen pumped the brakes, saying in his husky growl, “I’ll handle it myself.”

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Bruce Springsteen borrows stories from his memoir "Born to Run" and shares them in his Broadway show.

Bruce Springsteen borrows stories from his memoir “Born to Run” and shares them in his Broadway show.

( Rob DeMartin)

The moment showed the power and charm of the 68-year-old rocker. It also reminded that the show — a soldout sensation before a note was sung or word was spoken — is not a just a concert in a Broadway theater.

Threaded with 15 songs and stories pulled from his year-old memoir, “Born to Run,” the Broadway debut of New Jersey’s finest is a tightly scripted chronological narrative tracing his life.

It follows a familiar template — by getting personal, a storyteller can get universal. It’s easy to see oneself as he sings and talks about growing up, getting older and reflecting on it all.

An empty stage makes a good place to pour out a full heart. Except for a piano, mics and a couple of stools, it’s just Bruce — in black pants and a T-shirt. And his tales and songs, including “Thunder Road,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” which led to a loving remembrance of the late, great E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

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Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, joins him for duets on “Brilliant Disguise” and “Tougher Than the Rest.”

Between acoustic arrangements and slow tempos, lyrics really resonate. Springsteen is in complete command when he’s singing, and playing his guitars and piano — and harmonica.

Storytelling is a work in progress. Springsteen, who is also the writer and director of the show, was born to run — free range. Being locked to a script (a teleprompter scrolls throughout the evening) at times stunts his naturalness and ease. But the intimacy of the setting — and his magnetism — make up for occasional lapses in spontaneity.

The show is a two-hour musical mood ring, fluidly changing tones. After singing “My Father’s House,” he jokes about being off “suicide watch.”

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But everything lightens with talk of his mother — and the song “The Wish.” Springsteen is often bathed in red and blue light or in moody shadows on stage, but as designed by Natasha Katz, everything’s bright white in this section. It feels right — and poignant.

And while the show is mostly personal, Springsteen turns political with talk of “torchlit parades” and the current “battle for the soul of the nation.” He lets the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. do the talking: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Springsteen’s flair for deadpan irony proves most irresistible. Like when he laughs off his anthem of escaping — “Born to Run” — and says that he now lives 10 minutes from his childhood home.

Springsteen ends the show back at his old address, where a majestic tree ignited his imagination as a kid. That copper beech is gone now, but remnants of roots remain. “It can’t be erased,” he says.

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Just like some nights in the theater.

“Springsteen on Broadway” runs through Feb. 3 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

The “Springsteen on Broadway” set list is fixed, but there’s room for a change on occasion.

“Growin’ Up”

“My Hometown”

Bruuuuuuuuuuce

“My Father’s House”

“The Wish”

“Thunder Road”

“The Promised Land”

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“Born in the U.S.A.”

“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”

“Tougher Than the Rest” (with Patti Scialfa)

“Brilliant Disguise” (with Patti Scialfa)

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“The Rising”

“Long Walk Home”

“Dancing in the Dark”

“Land of Hope and Dreams”

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“Born to Run”

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Tags:
broadway
theater reviews
bruce springsteen

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