Heart of Rock and Roll

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Photo: Matthew Murphy

Cititour.com Review
No matter how much one loves a recent pop music catalogue, no matter what happy flurry of nostalgia it may bring, there’s no guarantee it will “survive” the true jukebox musical treatment, with familiar tunes shoehorned into badly structured plots, much like Cinderella’s stepsisters and those famous glass slippers.

Still, the songs of 80s supergroup Huey Lewis & The News end up being great fodder for this particular art form as is proven in the unquestionably upbeat “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” now delighting audiences at the James Earl Jones Theatre. With their irresistible up-tempo melodies and lyrics full of generic yet often inspirational sentiment, songs like “The Power of Love,” “If This Is It” and “Workin’ for a Livin’” have remained firmly in some of our brains for four decades, and --- whether you know them or not -- now help put a smile on one’s face for 2 ½ hours.

Still, there’s plenty of credit to be spread around for the show’s success, starting with the show’s eager-to-please cast, most notably, the strong-lunged and appealing Corey Cott (who deserves a special Tony Award for his biceps) as the hard-working if over-ambitious Bobby, torn between his love of music and desire to climb the corporate ladder; the adorable yet iron-willed McKenzie Kurtz as his one-time co-worker, future boss and obvious love interest Cassandra Stone; and the scene-stealing Tamika Lawrence as HR exec (and Bobby’s best bud) Roz, who proves to have some personal secrets and hidden talents that ultimately come in surprisingly handy

As with his recent Off-Broadway success, “Dracula,” director Gordon Greenberg takes his job seriously, keeping the show moving as a fleet pace. Better still, he also never makes the show too serious, ensuring that its tongue remains firmly planted in one cheek or another almost the whole time.

Meanwhile, in his first Broadway outing, writer Jonathan A. Abrams knows how to structure his book scenes so that the songs feel placed comfortably and smartly. But I do wish the show’s central conflict – in which Bobby simultaneously signs an executive contract with Cassandra’s family company to run a new division and a year-long contract to tour with his old band, the Loop – made even a lick of sense. Moreover, since Abrams figured out how to wrap this dilemma up (and he does it somewhat ingeniously), I wish he had penned his denouement about 20 minutes earlier than he does. Better still, Abrams has a devilish way with a one-liner, with laughs coming often when you least expect them. (I will forever cherish the moment eccentric furniture designer, Otto Fjord, played with delicious over-the-top panache by Orville Mendoza, calls Cassandra’s creepy controlling ex-boyfriend Tucker, portrayed by a spot-on Billy Harrigan Tighe, “a human PEZ dispenser” to his face.)

Last, and by no means least, the incredibly busy Lorin Latarro has contributed plenty of energetic, 80s-inspired choreography – including one almost eerie aerobics session led by a Richard Simmons-like instructor. All of it is performed by an incredibly talented and colorfully costumed ensemble (by Jen Caprio) on Derek McLane’s simple yet effective sets.

Sure, “The Heart of Rock and Roll” isn’t on the same plane as some of this season’s sharper musicals, including “Merrily We Roll Along” or “Hell’s Kitchen.” But it’s good, lighthearted fun. And to quote Huey Lewis himself: I know what I like! You probably will too!

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 4/22/2024
Closing Open-ended

Theatre Info
James Earl Jones Theatre
138 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036