Broadway Review: THE HEART OF ROCK AND ROLL (The James Earl Jones Theatre)

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by Charles Kruger on May 3, 2024

in Theater-New York


It is the fashion nowadays to present musicals with legitimate claims to sophisticated art, with elegant musical settings, deep emotional explorations, and sophisticated social and political analysis. None of this is bad, but what happened to good old clap your hands and have fun?

Corey Cott
Corey Cott

Well, it’s still available from The Heart of Rock and Roll, the simply hilarious jukebox musical inspired by Huey Lewis and the News’s upbeat pop tunes — either original (“I Wanna New Drug”; “The Power of Love”) or covers (Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s Alright”). Lewis will never be confused with the likes of Dylan or Simon or McCartney or even Buddy Holly. His lyrics are simple, not deep, and his melodies are the same, but his songs are palatable and filled with infectious spirit and unassailable sunniness. I mean, if this show is any measure, “The Heart of Rock & Roll” was, is, and will be alright. The audience left the theatre laughing and smiling and bouncing along to the exit music. And why not? There’s a real good time to be had.

Corey Cott and McKenzie Kurtz

Smack dab in the ’80s, Bobby (the immensely likable Corey Cott, who shows off his biceps a lot) is basically the second coming of Pierrepont Finch but less nerd and more front man for a rock-and-roll band. But as the story opens, Bobby has abandoned his band the Loop (made up of goofy and fun Peter Pans who won’t grow up, played with charm by Raymond J. Lee, John-Michael Lyles and F. Michael Haynie).

Billy Harrigan Tighe, McKenzie Kurtz, Zoe Jensen and the Company
John Dossett and McKenzie Kurtz

Bobby has ideas for improving business at the cardboard box company, a crush on the boss’s daughter Cassandra (McKenzie Kurtz, a pro at musical comedy goofiness), and a best friend/confidante in Roz, the human resources staffer who helps him promote his schemes (a wry Tamika Lawrence). The plot is complicated (gently) by a snotty rival for the girl (you will love to hate the rubber-limbed Billy Harrigan Tighe) and the attempt to strike a deal with Fjord, a Swedish Furniture magnate (a very funny Orville Mendoza).

Corey Cott, Raymond J. Lee, John-Michael Lyles and F. Michael Haynie
F. Michael Haynie and the Company

This rocking rom-com works well because Jonathan A. Abrams‘ script (with a story by Tyler Mitchell and Abrams) keeps the jokes coming; it’s packed with zingers, clever but undemanding, and carrying no message beyond ain’t love grand? With a happy ending after delivering the simple massages that it might be “Hip to Be Square: and even okay to “…Believe in Love,” a think piece it is not. But the characters are lovable, Derek McLane‘s set and Jen Caprio‘s costumes colorful and delightful, and the performances polished, perfectly timed for laughs by director Gordon Greenberg. John Dossett as factory owner Stone gets the biggest laugh in a night of big laughs by performing a single line with such exquisite timing that it stopped the show. Another highlight is the business convention where the chorus performs a series of songs about cardboard boxes based on Broadway hits. Plus, there are some standout pieces of choreography by Lorin Latarro that you won’t see anywhere else on Broadway: a Richard Simmons-esque full-out parody of jazzercise led by Tommy Bracco, and a chorus line of workers from the packing supply factory tap dancing on sheets of bubble wrap with predictably snappy results. What’s not to like?

Tommy Bracco and the Company
Corey Cott, McKenzie Kurtz and the Company

Originally opening at The Old Globe, the journey of this jukebox musical to the James Earl Jones Theater has taken a decade, and it shows. The Heart of Rock and Roll may be a rhinestone, not a diamond, but it has been polished to shine.

photos by Matthew Murphy

The Heart of Rock and Roll
The James Earl Jones Theatre, 138 W 48th St
open run
for tickets, visit Heart of Rock and Roll

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