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The Heart of Rock and Roll

A pleasingly entertaining entry in the jukebox musical derby inspired by the songs of Huey Lewis and the News. 

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Corey Cott and McKenzie Kurtz in a scene from the new musical comedy “The Heart of Rock and Roll” at the James Earl Jones Theatre (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left”] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]

The Heart of Rock and Roll at the James Earl Jones Theatre is one of the more pleasant entries in the jukebox musical derby.  Using the musical catalog of Huey Lewis and the News, Tyler Mitchell and Jonathan A. Abrams, (book by Abrams), have fashioned an amusing story of a working class Joe who is torn between his love of rock music and his need to make a living in business.  Heart began its Broadway-bound journey in 2018 at the Old Globe in San Diego, but is set firmly in the 1980’s.

Bobby, played by the buff Corey Cott (Bandstand, Gigi and Newsies) is first seen as lead singer/guitarist with his quirky rock band mates, JJ (Raymond J. Lee), Glenn (F. Michael Haynie) and Eli (John-Michael Lyles).  Their love of music and their pipe dream hopes carry them on a cloud of eagerness.

Bobby has a bread and butter job at the Milwaukee-based Stone Cardboard Company headed by Mr. Stone (John Dossett, finding subtlety and colors in a fairly dry role) whose daughter, Cassandra/Cassie (McKenzie Kurtz, with depth belied by her sweet appearance) helps run the company with a cool efficiency.

Corey Cott, Raymond J. Lee, John Michael Lyles and F. Michael Haynie in a scene from the new musical comedy “The Heart of Rock and Roll” at the James Earl Jones Theatre (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Cassie is impressed with a stunt that Bobby pulls to increase output on the assembly line—reminiscent of Kinky Boots—even though it backfires (“Hip to Be Square”). They eventually put their heads together at the Midwestern Package Convention in Chicago where they woo the Swedish furniture magnate named Fjord (a very funny Orville Mendoza) who is poised to order millions of Stone’s cardboard boxes.  His company is cleverly named IDEA! His negotiations with the Stone people take place in an odd place, a sauna.

As Bobby and Cassie dance around romance, Cassie’s old boyfriend, the uptight, nasty, but handsome Tucker (Billy Harrigan Tighe, having fun as the boo-able villain of Heart), returning from a job overseas, does his best to abort their relationship—cue “Give Me the Keys (And I’ll Drive You Crazy).”

A dream ballet to “Stuck With You” makes witty fun of the possibility of a Cassie-Tucker marriage, doomed to a bizarre domesticity and cliché.

John Dossett and McKenzie Kurtz in in a scene from the new musical comedy “The Heart of Rock and Roll” at the James Earl Jones Theatre (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Cott’s performance as Bobby confirms that he has everything a performer needs to lead a show.  He is handsome and has a fine voice and great acting chops which he has displayed in other shows that just didn’t make it, but he’s getting a chance to shine again with The Heart of Rock and Roll.

Tamika Lawrence plays Roz, the world-weary Human Resource chief of Stone who gave up her dream of musical stardom to work in the 9-to-5 world.  She nearly steals the show with her second act number “Back in Time.”

A subplot Cassie’s best friend, Paige (a sassy Zoe Jensen) encourages Cassie’s romantic adventurousness while also having her own relationship with Wyatt (Josh Breckenridge, charismatic) exemplified by their teasing “Don’t Make Me Do It.”

There’s even a detour, for some reason, to an admittedly hilarious parody of “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.”

Billy Harrigan Tighe, Josh Breckenridge, McKenzie Kurtz and Zoe Jensen and company in in a scene from the new musical comedy “The Heart of Rock and Roll” at the James Earl Jones Theatre (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Will Bobby forsake music for an executive position at the box company?  The witty twist at the end ties up all the loose ends with a perfect musical comedy finale.

The Lewis score, of course, features his most famous songs, including the title song and “The Power of Love” as the finale.  The creators use the songs wisely and if, like me, you weren’t an ardent Huey Lewis fan, they comfortably keep the show’s motor running.

Choreographer Lorin Latarro provides entertaining numbers, particularly a great number that has the cast tap dancing on bubble wrap.

Corey Cott and McKenzie Kurtz (center right) and the company of the new musical comedy “The Heart of Rock and Roll” at the James Earl Jones Theatre (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

All the featured players are on the same wavelength and give performances that border on, but never overstep, silliness.  Cott and Kurtz sing well and Jensen clowns expertly.  Dossett gives Stone both dignity and warmth.

Director Gordon Greenberg keeps the show flowing, helped by the constantly in motion scenery by Derek McLane, the witty period costumes by Jen Caprio and Japhy Weideman’s zippy lighting.

The Heart of Rock and Roll (open run)

James Earl Jones Theatre, 138 West 48th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.heartofrocknrollbway.com

Running time:  two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission

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About Joel Benjamin (561 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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