Review: Springsteen returns to Broadway with a more emotional, more animated show

springsteen on broadway 2021 review

PHOTOS BY ROB DEMARTIN

Bruce Springsteen performs in “Springsteen on Broadway” at the St. James Theatre on June 26, 2021.

NEW YORK — Bruce Springsteen previously said that he didn’t expect to make any major changes to “Springsteen on Broadway” in its second run. But he has rethought that.

The opening night show, June 26 at the St. James Theatre (which also was the first Broadway show of any kind since the start of the pandemic), didn’t just feature three songs not included in the original, 2017-2018 run. There also were changes to the script and, most important, a more emotional, more dynamic approach to the material.

Maybe it’s because the St. James is almost twice as large as the Walter Kerr Theatre, which hosted the original run, and Springsteen feels the need to reach out to those sitting far away. Or maybe it has to do with the joy of returning to performing for live audiences for the first time in more than a year. But Springsteen seems much more animated, this time around.

In 2017 and 2018, he projected intensity and focus throughout the show. But now he seems to have regained some of the crowd-pleasing abandon that was a trademark of his arena and stadium shows of his past.

You really have the full range of Springsteen here, from clowning to storytelling so deeply affecting he was wiping the tears from his eyes. More often than before, he is using a loud, commanding tone — preacher mode, more or less, even if the words aren’t sermon-like. Also more often than before, he creates intimacy by standing far from the mike while speaking or singing — and still managing to project his voice throughout the large theater.

Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa perform in “Springsteen on Broadway” at the St. James Theatre on June 26, 2021.

He often got extremely wistful, at this show, when talking about the past. But he also broke from the script several times to ask fans applauding too long to “shut the fuck up,” or to refrain from cheering when the name of their hometown was mentioned. “Don’t do that!” he barked. “Your town probably sucks, just like mine.”

More genially, he talked about how he has kept busy throughout the pandemic with a variety of projects, and about how great it was to see people sitting next to each other in a theater, maskless. And he joked about his DUI charge, which was dropped earlier this year after he agreed to pay a fine. ” ‘The United States of America vs. Bruce Springsteen’ … that’s always comfortable to hear,” he deadpanned.

The three new songs served different purposes.

“Fire,” performed as a steamy duet with Patti Scialfa, added a playful element to the show, with the spouses flirting with each other as they shared a mic. Scialfa also sang part of the song on her own, giving her a moment in the spotlight that the earlier shows lacked. (Springsteen also made sure to plug her upcoming solo album.)

“American Skin (41 Shots)” made a connection to George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement in a more concrete way than the song it replaced, “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” could.

And “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which closed the show, served as a hopeful, uplifting cap to an evening filled with stories about deceased family members and friends, and also gave hardcore fans the opportunity to hear a Springsteen song they had never heard in person before. (It’s from Springsteen’s Letter to You album, released during the pandemic.)

Bruce Springsteen in “Springsteen on Broadway.”

I strongly feel that Springsteen has improved on his Tony-winning show, two and a half years later.

That said, there are still problems with it.

While the first half is full of detailed stories about growing up and starting out as a musician, the second half is very disjointed, and loses the autobiographical thread for long stretches. The show’s lightest moment (“Fire”) is followed by some ultra-serious social commentary, with Springsteen talking about the “troubled and troubling times” we are living through and the attack on “democracy itself.” This leads to “American Skin,” but then that is followed by “The Rising” with no mention at all of the circumstances that led Springsteen to write that song.

Before “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” Springsteen talked about going back to his old neighborhood to find that his favorite tree from his childhood had been cut down. In the initial run, this referred back to one of his earlier stories, but since that earlier story has been cut out, this now comes out of nowhere.

Nevertheless, I think there is no question that Springsteen made a wise decision in changing the show around a bit and not just repeating what he had already done (which has already been immortalized in film and album form). While not entirely new, of course, “Springsteen on Broadway” is different enough to add to his legacy, as every Springsteen project should.

Bruce Springsteen in “Springsteen on Broadway.”

The show is scheduled to run to Sept. 4. For tickets, visit seatgeek.com/springsteen-on-broadway-tickets.

Here is the June 26 setlist:

“Growin’ Up”
“My Hometown”
“My Father’s House”
“The Wish”
“Thunder Road”
“The Promised Land”
“Born in the USA”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-out”
“Tougher Than the Rest (with Patti Scialfa)
“Fire” (with Patti Scialfa)
“American Skin (41 Shots)”
“The Rising”
“Dancing in the Dark”
“Land of Hope and Dreams”
“I’ll See You in My Dreams”

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3 thoughts on “Review: Springsteen returns to Broadway with a more emotional, more animated show

  1. I thought the original performance was much better than the 2o21 version which we just saw on July 3 2021. Maybe because that performance was so raw and just pure perfection. This time it seemed choppy and too staged. The part where he yelled at an audience member for clapping was funny on the surface yet obnoxious and started a massive argument in the first level section. It was even more distracting than the clapping and a group of us could not hear what Bruce was saying for a good couple minutes after. Not really funny when you are paying so much for an experience you can’t hear. And honestly he called it the bane of his existence. Come on. He should be honored! It got so bad and distracting that people were kicked out. Not the experience I expected.

  2. Went to the 2nd to last performance of Bruce on Broadway 2021! My son was able to attend his other performance in 2018 and was able to get his autograph! 😊 This time, it was a family affair, mother father daughter son! I was in totally awe! I have been to quite a few of his concerts thanks to my son Kevin Curley! I have watched the Bruce Springsteen on Broadway on Netflix soon after it came out! I have watched it four times already! So this time, Bruce on Broadway I was ready for it, thanks to my son and daughter as a gift!! Bruce never disappoints!… I do feel he talked a lot about death, actually think that’s what this show was all about! Reminiscing and passing of others that were very near and dear to him! What really choked me more this time around was (2021 version) Bruce on Broadway was “The Wish”….One of my favorite songs of his… my son sent me that song when it first came out and my heart was full!…We all get there in life as we get older, where, we reminisce of of all our loved ones! Bruce tells it like it is and that’s why I love him! My son absolutely cannot get enough of Bruce (he’s 33) Bruce is his number one fan.. we usually celebrate Christmas at our house and somehow it always ends up playing BRUCE songs….We love you Bruce!! The Curley’s!!

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