High Fidelity. Music by Tom Kitt. Lyrics by Amanda Green. Book by David Lindsay-Abaire. Based on the book by Nick Horby and the Touchstone Pictures film. Directed by Nathan Patrech and Sarah Hull. Phoenix Players. ANU Arts Centre, February 6 to 21. Dinner and show packages available from Teatro Vivaldi on 62572718. Ticket bookings: phoenixplayers.com.au or 6253 1454.
Zach Raffan says his character in High Fidelity is so similar to himself, "I don't really feel like I'm acting on stage."
Raffan - in his first lead role in a musical - plays Rob, a 30-something music obsessive who owns a Brooklyn record store in the 1990s and has just been dumped by his girlfriend Laura (Josie Dunham). He's an inveterate listmaker and when this split doesn't make his list of Top 5 Break-ups, he revisits the failures of the past to try to figure out what went wrong, leading to a journey of self-discovery.
Like Rob, Raffan says, he has a tendency to learn things the hard way.
"I'm playing the character and learning the things he learns - it's a better therapeutic investment than a trip to the local shrink."
Raffan, 33, studied classical trumpet and used to play in orchestras but found it too cruel and competitive. He says, "I left that life behind four years ago and changed to the dark side: I now play jazz."
He also performs on stage in both plays and musical theatre.
It's the Canberra premiere for the 2006 Broadway rock musical - scripted by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) and adapted from Nick Hornby's novel and the film version starring John Cusack. In addition to having a first-time leading man it has a pair of two first-time directors, Nathan Patrech and Sarah Hull.
Hull - who's been acting for the past 15 years - didn't know the show when Patrech approached with a proposal they direct it together. She had liked the movie, though, and when she heard the score she was sold. She thinks her experience as a performer and Patrech's knowledge of lighting and sound are a good match for the task.
"We complement each other's strengths and help with each other's weaknesses."
Hull says having a flawed protagonist - a character who has a lot to learn about life and commitment - rather than a more conventional hero makes the show interesting for her.
"He's still a character you want to root for but he's quite a man-child in some ways," she says. "I think he's quite self-centred. At a lot of points throughout the show he's saying, 'Why do these things happen to me?' - he doesn't seem to realise he's the contributing factor."
During the course of the show, she says, Rob begins to understand himself a bit better, which might enable him to find a committed, happy relationship.
It's not all serious, though. Rob's record-store employees - nervous Dick (Will Huang) and sharp-tongued Barry (Max Gambale) - provide light relief.
And, of course, there's the music. The score ranges across genres from rock to country and many of the numbers are in the style of particular artists including Aretha Franklin, Guns'n'Roses and Billy Joel. Neil Young (Rodwell Faulker) and Bruce Springsteen (Sean Ladlow) even appear as characters in the show.
As well as drawing on their own theatrical experience, the first-time directors have surrounded themselves with some seasoned collaborators including choreographer Jordan Kelly. But there's always more to learn, Hull has found. Being on the other side of the stage has been a challenge - and one aspect in particular stood out.
"I never realised how complicated trying to schedule rehearsals could be."