“The Heart of Rock and Roll” is a feel-good musical treat

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Corey Cott, McKenzie Kurtz, and the Company are on stage dancing
Corey Cott, McKenzie Kurtz, and the Company of The Heart of Rock and Roll (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Billy Harrigan Tighe, McKenzie Kurtz, Zoe Jensen, and the Company are on stage dancing
Billy Harrigan Tighe, McKenzie Kurtz, Zoe Jensen, and the Company of The Heart of Rock and Roll (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

The songs of Huey Lewis and the News are part of the American pop-rock songbook. Many of those songs — including “Hip to Be Square”, “Workin’ for a Livin’”, “The Heart of Rock and Roll”, “The Power of Love”, and “If This Is It” — are familiar to many. These songs have inspired the new stage musical The Heart of Rock and Roll, with a book by Jonathan A. Abrams based on a story by Abrams and Tyler Mitchell. It’s a musical that promises a lively, rousing good time in the theater and delivers on that promise.

Our hero is Bobby Stivic (Ross Lekites, understudying the absent Corey Cott), an ex-rocker working on the production line at a Milwaukee cardboard manufacturer. Bobby’s latest dream is to get into sales, but his enthusiastic ideas have gotten him warnings from company owner Chuck Stone (John Dossett), Stone’s accountant daughter Cassandra (McKensie Kurtz), and HR head Roz (Tamika Lawrence). His most recent stunt has gotten him fired, but to prove his ideas valuable to the firm, Bobby talks Roz into taking him along to a packaging convention in Chicago. Bobby’s old bandmates (F. Michael Haynie, Raymond J. Lee, and John-Michael Lyles) are also in Chicago appearing at a concert, and they talk him into rejoining the band as lead singer for their one-night concert appearance.

Cassandra is talked into attending a college reunion party by her best friend Paige (Zoe Jensen) and Paige’s husband Wyatt (John Breckenridge). The couple pair Cass up with her old college boyfriend, Tucker (Billy Harrigan Tighe), a slick financial operator who soon puts the heavy moves on her. Meanwhile, Bobby arranges a meeting with Scandinavian furniture manufacturer Otto Fjord (Orville Mendoza) who is planning to expand into the United States. When Stone finds out about this, he insists that Cass sit in on the meeting. Thrown together, Bobby and Cass warm up to each other, succeeding at their task, and Stone rehires Bobby as a sales manager. However, the band has been offered a recording and touring contract and a year-long tour. Bobby, trying to please everybody, signs the contract with the band – and another contract with Stone.

Lekites and Kurtz are very good at portraying the growing respect and romantic interest between this poor boy-rich girl team. Bobby finds himself in hilarious situations trying to satisfy everyone at once. Jensen’s Paige is a frustrated wife to Breckenridge’s workaholic husband Wyatt. Tighe’s Tucker is a limber-jointed, gray-hearted villain with attitudes straight out of melodrama; I haven’t seen a funnier take on storming out of a room in high dudgeon in ages. Lawrence’s Roz and Dossett’s Stone both have dreams they’d given up on – hers in rock, his in baseball – and their reminiscences strike a balance between humor and wistful nostalgia. 

Director Gordon Greenberg has guided his cast to give realistic performances without sacrificing the humor of the book or the energy of the musical numbers.  While the dancers were professional and energetic, I was a little disappointed in Lorin Latarro’s choreography; there didn’t seem to be anything there in terms of movement that I hadn’t seen in other shows before. Will Van Dyke headed up an orchestra that paid tribute to the songs from the Huey Lewis and the News catalog, blending driving energy with tenderness in the more romantic numbers.

The Heart of Rock and Roll is a feel-good musical which delivers that good feeling from the first note through to the finale. A fine cast led by a skilled director, brightly colored and effective scene pieces and costumes, and a rockin’ orchestra all join together in making this show the kind of springtime/summertime fun many will enjoy. And damn, do I feel good after seeing The Heart of Rock and Roll!

The Heart of Rock and Roll is playing at the James Earl Jones Theatre, 138 West 48th Street in New York. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit heartofrocknrollbway.com.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.