Katie Rose Clark and Matt Doyle (with microphonnes) in "The Heart of Rock & Roll." Photo by Jim Cox
Among the questions confronting bar-band Bobby, the likable hero of the Huey Lewis and the News-inspired jukebox musical The Heart of Rock & Roll, is: Is it hip to be square? Is it better to be an exec with a cardboard-box company than to be a big-time rocker? The answer would seem a no-brainer, but then Bobby’s got some extenuating circumstance that comprise the storyline of this world-premiere show at the Old Globe Theatre.
The good-timey, decidedly non-anarchic hits of Lewis and the News are a comfortable fit for an aspiring Broadway musical. Not only are the tunes themselves – mostly chestnuts from the ‘80s – bright and sing-able, but thanks to the show’s writers, Jonathan A. Abrams and Tyler Mitchell, they’re also easily integrated into the narrative. Besides “Hip to Be Square,” favorites such as “Workin’ for a Livin,” “Do You Believe in Love,” “If This Is it” and the title song function just as if they were crafted for the stage. But make no mistake: This is not American Idiot. The Heart of Rock & Roll is safe and satisfying, the kind of good time Huey Lewis and the News ensured in concerts and for viewers of their MTV-driven videos.
No one in the story itself is really a heavy. Everyone’s got some wholesome good in them, even the superficial wannabe beau (Billy Harrigan Tighe) of lovely Cassie Stone (Katie Rose Clarke), the cardboard-box CEO who Bobby (Matt Doyle) falls for. It’s inevitable that the “Power of Love” will win out. A superb comic turn by Orville Mendoza as eccentric business magnate Harrison Fjord adds considerably to the non-musical portions of the show.
All the stage bells and whistles are on display in this Globe production directed by Gordon Greenberg. The versatile set (designed by Derek McLane) shifts impressively from dive bar to product-convention floor to Chicago’s Navy Pier, and more. Lorin Latarro’s choreography is likewise inspired, in one sequence employing bubble wrap as a dance floor.
One’s affection for and familiarity with the songs of Huey Lewis and the News may ultimately determine enjoyment of The Heart of Rock & Roll. Then again, there’s a lot to like about a big, splashy show that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
(Review originally published 9/19/18 in San Diego CityBeat.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.