Springsteen on Broadway — the Netflix filmed version of Bruce Springsteen’s wildly successful autobiographical Broadway show — opens with a tight shot of his face.
It’s a smart move. Not only does it show that the filmed version, directed by longtime Springsteen collaborator Thom Zimny, plans to offer a different experience than the one Broadway showgoers enjoyed, it also makes clear what the show is about. This isn’t a couple of hours with The Boss, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who fills stadiums with fans screaming along with “Born to Run.” This is a rare opportunity to spend time with the man.
“This is what I’ve presented to you all these years as my long and noisy prayer, as my magic trick,” Springsteen says onstage. “And like all good magic tricks it begins with a setup.”
Springsteen on Broadway, which starts streaming today on Netflix, is all about the “setup,” about how Springsteen became The Boss and what that has meant to him. It’s no wonder fans jumped at the opportunity to see the “setup,” especially in the intimate setting of the 975-seat Walter Kerr Theatre, and were willing to pay up to $850 (even more if they went to scalpers) to do it.
“Those whose love we wanted but didn’t get, we emulate them,” he reveals. “It is our only way to get it. So when it came time, I chose my father’s voice because there was something sacred in it to me ... All we know about manhood is what we have learned from our fathers. And my father was my hero, and my greatest foe.”
So much of rock ’n’ roll is built through crafting larger-than-life personas. Like his surprising autobiography Born to Run, Springsteen on Broadway seeks to tear down “The Boss” persona by showing its seams. “Iwasborntorun—notto stay,” Springsteen says, noting that he lives about 10 minutes away from where he grew up in Freehold, N.J.
Though the show’s Broadway run ended Saturday, the Netflix version is designed to live on to tell the story in a slightly different way.
The most stunning example is when a close-up shows tears welling up in Springsteen’s eyes as he talks about an unexpected visit from his father, Doug, shortly before Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa, gave birth to their first son, Evan.
“You’ve been very good to us,” Springsteen says onstage. “And I wasn’t very good to you.”
The camera doesn’t move from Springsteen’s face, as he says, “It was the greatest moment in my life with my dad. And it was all that I needed.”
“Here in the last days before I was to become a father, my own father was visiting me, to warn me of the mistakes that he had made, and to warn me not to make them with my own children,” Springsteen continues, “to release them from the chain of our sins, my father’s and mine, that they may be free to make their own choices and to live their own lives.”
“DNA is a big part of what the show is about: turning yourself into a free agent, or, as much as you can, into an adult, for lack of a better word,” Springsteen told Esquire. “It’s a coming-of-age story, and I want to show how this — one’s coming of age — has to be earned. It’s not given to anyone. It takes a certain single-minded purpose. It takes self-awareness, a desire to go there. And a willingness to confront all the very fearsome and dangerous elements of your life — your past, your history — that you need to confront to become as much of a free agent as you can. This is what the show is about ... It’s me reciting my ‘Song of Myself.’”
Springsteen on Broadway has that link to poet Walt Whitman. It also pays tribute to so many one-man (and woman) Broadway shows.
More than anything else, it shows that Springsteen is a free agent, boldly telling his own story as honestly as he can. The Netflix version may not quite compete with the singular experience of seeing the show in person, but it certainly comes close.