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The Heart of Rock and Roll

A group of people dancing on a stage

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The Cast of Heart of Rock and Roll (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

The Heart of Rock and Roll

By Julia Polinsky

Sometimes, musical theater is charming and predictable and silly and hummable and fun. Sometimes, that's just what you want. The Heart of Rock and Roll delivers one of those times. Delightfully. In 2024, the jukebox musical is part of the theater landscape, for better or worse. With The Heart of Rock and Roll it's definitely for better, as it spackles a plot around the back catalog of 1980s superstar pop band, Huey Lewis and the News.

A lot happens in The Heart of Rock and Roll. Long story short: Bobby (Corey Cott) works on the assembly line in a cardboard factory. He wants to move up to sales executive. Screws up. Gets fired. Makes a cockamamie plan to get his dream sales job and succeed. At the same time, his old rock band wants him back. Plus the boss's daughter. Plus the boss's daughter's ex-BF. Plus the head of HR helping him out. Plus his dad's old guitar. Plus some very odd moments surrounding a sauna, some tree branches, and the Swedish owner of a flat-pack furniture corporation.

A group of men on a stage

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Corey Cott, Raymond J. Lee, John-Michael Lyles, F. Michael Haynie (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Is there an actual plot through all of this? How many do you want? Aside from the boy-meets-girl plot, there's also the Live Your Dream plot, the We're Counting On You plot, the Make Something Of Yourself plot, the Do It For The Beloved Dead Parent plot, the Do It For Your Old Friends plot, the Greed is Good plot (hey, it's the 80s) and somehow, all these plots resolve, fairly satisfyingly, in less than 2 hours although the second half still has a bad case of the doldrums. Despite the hilarious 2nd act opener -- a Richard Simmons-like aerobics class - things go downhill from there, with uneven songs, too much contemplation, and preposterous plot points.

A group of people dancing on a stage

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Tommy Bracco and The Cast of Heart of Rock and Roll (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Some highlights: "Hip to be Square" set in the cardboard box factory's assembly line, employs flattened boxes in a dozen ways, doing multiple riffs on "square." The bubble-wrap dance brings new meaning to "poppy" as a descriptor for Huey Lewis and the News's music. The marriage dream sequence is hilarious, and the final song is just killer.

The show is buoyed by terrific performances. Some standouts: Corey Cott is appropriately lunkheaded-but-solidly-sweet as Bobby; McKenzie Kurtz gives Cassandra a splendidly funny, uncomfortable nerdiness. Tamika Lawrence kills it as Roz, the HR administrator; Billy Harrigan Tighe's villainous Tucker is just splendid.

Scenic design from Derek McLane handily evokes the 80s, as do costumes by Jen Caprio. Super, appropriately over the top hair, wig, and makeup design comes from Nikiya Mathis. Director Gordon Greenberg works his cast around a mostly predictable and reasonably entertaining book by Jonathan A. Abrams. With Lorin Latarro's exciting, tongue-in-cheek choreography, Brian Usifer's arrangements of the Huey Lewis songs, the show is fun to watch, hear, and bop to in your seat. Which the audience definitely does.

It's not unreasonable to expect people of a certain age to enjoy this show - Huey Lewis and the News are the 80s incarnate, so late-boomers are probably the target market. Surprisingly, the enthusiastic audience response came from all ages. That's a good sign that Broadway can survive.

Good triumphs; evil is vanquished, and the hero, heroine, villain, Swedish corporate gent, and HR manager get to live the dream. Why worry about the details? There's a lot to be said for unabashedly being who you are, and The Heart of Rock and Roll is unabashedly a joyful, unpretentious jukebox musical. Terrific cast, tons of fun, and a welcome lightness in the very serious 2023-24 Season.

The Heart of Rock and Roll
At the James Earl Jones Theater

138 W. 48th St.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.