Though senior Lindsay Schapiro’s musical thesis “Highway Alive: A Concept Album” achieves numerous feats as a production, its greatest lies in its ability to effectively communicate the compelling idea that we’re performing constantly, an idea that too few of us ever even stumble upon. Despite the seeming complexity of the play, its unorthodox use of the audience ultimately leaves us with an enlightening sense of clarity about how we choose to lead our daily lives.
“Highway Alive” primarily follows the trials and tribulations of the legendary American rock artist, Bruce Springsteen, both before and after his mainstream success. Though the narrative mainly focuses on Bruce’s personal journey and the numerous difficult decisions he made, it follows other side stories as well. The most notable one is that of the Joad family from the Great Depression novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” which is integrated into the greater narrative of the play at several points. Throughout “Highway Alive,” Bruce reads the novel and triggers scenes where the book’s characters come to life.
The play uses this jumble of stories as extensive anecdotes for the thesis’s central point of perceiving everyone as a performer.
“I wanted to play with the idea that everybody is performing constantly,” Schapiro said. “Bruce Springsteen is not only performing on stage but he’s performing when he conducts an interview, he’s performing when he’s at home, et cetera.”
The play conveys this point of constant performance in creative ways. First of all, it is an interactive play. The audience never sits down for long, but continuously moves from one location to the next as the scenes change. In one scene, the filming of a music video, the audience literally becomes part of the performance as they are asked by a character to act as a crowd at a concert would. At some point, Springsteen breaks the fourth wall and begins talking to audience members about his life and what’s on his mind. Such variations from the norm not only served to amplify the enjoyment of the play, but communicated its central message all the more powerfully.
The play was written by Schapiro, a music and English double major. Kirby Sokolow ’14 directed the show and Matt Lynch ’15 starred as Springsteen. The three previously worked together on a production of “Macbeth” two years ago.
The Music Department requires all of its majors to do a senior project, which is either a recital accompanied by a relatively short paper or a much longer paper; Schapiro chose to have “Highway Alive” serve as the recital component of hers.
“There’s a paper I’m writing about it as well that includes the script as an add-on,” Schapiro said. “I originally thought the play was going to be entirely about the false promises of the American dream, which is why the Joads came into the play. Now, it’s about the many roles that people play in their lives; self-representation, identity, and performance, and how people perform their identity. And then the Joads became more about telling stories.”
As Schapiro would go on to explain, choosing Springsteen’s story to reflect such a universal idea was not merely for how compelling his personal struggles were, but for the immense connection she had had with him.
“There was never any other choice but Bruce Springsteen,” Schapiro said. “My parents followed Bruce around on tour. I grew up singing [‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’]. I think it’s one of the first songs I learned how to sing.”
Springsteen had a similarly significant influence on Sokolow, though Schapiro had no idea before approaching her to direct the play.
“The first concerts I ever went to were Springsteen, [and] my parents went to high school with his current wife,” Sokolow said.
Lynch, on the other hand, had no significant connection to Springsteen prior to the play.
“I’m probably one of 17 people in New Jersey who has not been to a Bruce Springsteen concert,” Lynch said.
He expressed that it was his unfamiliarity with the character and the challenge it imposed that enriched his experience of the role the most.
“[From] my past [experience] in acting, I think it can be dangerous to try and envision yourself as someone who’s living because if you try and put yourself in their shoes, you don’t know what they’ve been through,” Lynch said. “It’s impossible trying to be someone who is someone.”
“Highway Alive” is a truly fantastic journey, one that captivatingly takes its audience through various time periods, minds and even venues. Using the rich and specific narrative of Bruce Springsteen, the play successfully manages to reflect upon the universal notion of daily performance and ultimately provides excellent commentary on our day-to-day existence.