Springsteen on Broadway creates new performance

NEW YORK — After checking off all the rock star superlatives in his 68 years, Bruce Springsteen has set out to create a wholly new performance template.

“Springsteen on Broadway,” which opened Thursday night, is a deeply personal life story with a soundtrack, a one-man (or one-man and one-woman for two songs) show that’s by turns funny and touching. He’s onstage five nights a week through Feb. 3 in what has been called his Broadway debut.

The distinction is important. This is a set piece, not a concert where Springsteen usually changes his set-list from night to night. He motioned to fans who greeted him at Wednesday’s final rehearsal with cheers and familiar “Bruuuucce!” shouts to sit down, and stopped people from clapping along to “Dancing in the Dark” by saying, “I’ll handle it myself.”

The songs — 15 of them in a 130-minute performance — were secondary to Springsteen’s stories about growing up in Freehold, New Jersey, the peeks into what he’s reached for artistically and pokes at his own persona. The intimacy of the 960-seat Walter Kerr Theatre is what made it special; Springsteen could step away from the microphone for a verse or two and not worry about his voice not reaching the rafters.

“I have never held an honest job in my entire life,” Springsteen said. “I have never done an honest day’s work. I’ve never done hard labor. I’ve never worked nine to five. And yet, that is all that I’ve ever written about.”

Reciting a stream of his own lyrics about the “death trap” and need to run from the swamps of Jersey, he deadpanned, “I live 10 minutes from my hometown.”

“I came from a boardwalk town where everything is tinged with a bit of fraud,” he said. “So am I, if you haven’t figured that out yet.”

Some of Springsteen’s stories about growin’ up (the title of his opening song) should be familiar to readers of his autobiography, and he even reads from it. He has a keen eye and novelist’s sense of detail.