Maroulis (Photo by Joan Marcus)
and Roll Man
The excellent Off-Broadway musical Rock and Roll Man tells the devastating
tale of legendary Alan Freed (impeccably played by Constantine Maroulis), the
innovative DJ destroyed by J. Edgar Hoover (Bob Aria) in a corset and a woman’s
wig. Freed was the promoter of hits by Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard,
Chuck Berry, Lavern Baker, Buddy Holly, and other groundbreaking artists of the
1950s and 60s. He fostered the work of many Black artists on white radio
stations, an unheard-of practice at the time.
Rock and Roll Man masterfully showcases these stars through the
performances of Rodrick Covington as Little Richard, Valisia Lekae as Lavern
Baker, Andy Christopher as both Buddy Holly and Pat Boone, Eric B. Turner as Bo
Diddley, Dominique Scott as Jerry Lee Lewis and Dick Clark, Jamonte as Frankie
Lymon and Dave Cooper) and Matthew S. Morgan as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Chuck
Berry. The music performances in this show are earth shattering; these artists
The storyline magnificently details Freed’s trial in a dream he has as he is
approaching his death. In the dream he is tried for promoting the downfall of
white kids who will be led into a nightmare of sex and drugs and criminal
activity. (Little Richard plays his lawyer in gold lame, and he is hysterical
and musically sensational.) However, in actuality, Alan Freed was put on trial
for accepting payments from record companies in exchange for broadcasting their
tunes on his radio shows without telling the listening audience. Rock and
Roll Man, of course, revolves around this practice, which was dubbed
“payola”—a contraction for the words “pay” and “Victrola” or play for pay.
However, as previously stated, Alan Feed’s true transgression was promoting
what the bigots of his day called “race music.” He was terribly persecuted for
encouraging racial mixing on the dance floors and advancing and promoting the
musical talents of Black artists. Segregation was in full swing (no pun
intended) and full integration was a serious threat to the powers that be.
Covington and the ensemble of Rock and Roll Man. (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Alan Freed is credited for coining the term rock and roll and offered a shot at
fame and fortune to the disenfranchised “outlaws,” who happened to have black
skin. This rock and roll man started his DJing in Cleveland, the home of The
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, yet his induction into its hallowed halls was
unequivocally banned at first; he was eventually inducted, years later).
The man who was blamed for fanning the flames of the demise of Western
civilization was a passionate entertainer in love with his work. He was not
necessarily motivated by money, although some may argue this to the
However, enter Morris Levy, whose character came to life by the riveting
performance of Joe Pantoliano, who also played a phenomenal Leo Mintz, the
Cleveland record shop owner who inspired Freed. This is where Freed first
marveled at the records that Leo sold to both Black and white kids who went
wild over them.
Levy was connected to organized crime. In Rock and Roll Man he is
surrounded by threatening Mafia types—one brandishing a baseball bat. Levy is a
cutthroat, ruthless, and greedy entrepreneur (he owned the original Birdland
jazz club) and he kicked Freed to the curb when their partnership went bust.
His diatribe against him is vicious. It can be up for debate as to whether or
not Mo Levy is actually Alan Freed’s foil. See the show and you decide.
Freed was a complicated man. Rock and Roll Man is a commanding portrayal
of the intricacies of someone embroiled in the zeitgeist of an era that spewed
racial hatred, twisted religiosity and ruthless political agendas. In the end,
Freed died a jobless, penniless pariah, scorned by his peers. He was 43 years
old. His alcoholism was the official cause of death but classifying it as dying
of a broken heart would be more accurate.
See this play for its historical merit; enjoy the fabulous music (wondrously
executed by composer, lyricist, Garry Kupper). Marvel at the spectacular
choreography of Stephanie Klemons, Yijun Yang’s stimulating, engaging and fun
set design and Leon Dobkowski’s exquisite costume design.
will leave the theater saddened by Alan Freed’s torment but incessantly
snapping your fingers and tapping your feet. How could you not? It’s hard to
refrain from such behavior when “Great Balls of Fire”, “Peggy Sue”, “Roll Over
Beethoven”, “Ain’t That a Shame”, “Yakety Yak”, “Why do Fools Fall in Love”,
“Smoke gets in your Eyes”, “Maybellene” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly” as well as
other timeless tunes can’t be driven out of your head.
Rock and Roll Man
New World Stages—Stage 3
340 West 50th Street, New York, NY
Run time 2 hours and 30 minutes (one intermission)
Through November 5, 2023
Tickets https://rockandrollmanthemusical.com/#tickets or call Telecharge
212 239 6200