The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa is mounting the world premiere of “The Heart Of Rock And Roll”, a jukebox musical based on the music of Huey Lewis And The News” through Oct. 21.
No, it’s not his musical biography chronicling Lewis’s’ music as in “Beautiful”, Carole King’s musical journey or the “Jersey Boys”, (‘Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’) “Motown” or more recently “The Donna Summer Musical”.
To appreciate “The Heart of Rock And Roll”, think Jimmy Buffett’s “Escape To Margaretville” or Abba’s “Mamma Mia”. Both feature the music of each artist but include a story to fit the music. “The Heart of Rock and Roll” uses that same formula with Jonathan A. Abrams’ (Book) and Tyler Mitchell’s and Jonathan A. Abrams (Story) with no less than 23 of their hit numbers, of which I recognized three.
As stories go, this one is about as sound as young (20 year old) Sophie Sheridan who is looking for one of three men that could possibly be her father by inviting them out to the Greek Island of Kalokairi, to walk her down the isle. It features at least 11 Abba hits that fit into the story.
In “The Heart of Rock & Roll” the story revolves around the dilemma Bobby (an excellently talented and charming Matt Doyle) a struggling thirty something musician, and his band buddies have to make about keeping their band together.
Struggling to make it big, they lack the oomph needed to get them over the hump to be recognized, especially from band promoter Nina (a feisty Lindsay Nicole Chambers) who has already nixed them after seeing them perform at Chicago’s Empty Bottle Club. (“Walking The Thin Line”)
Bobby pawns his guitar and is off to the cooperate world of Stone (Inc.) Box Company in Milwaukee where they make (what else) cardboard boxes. He applies for a job in sales (“Hip To Be Square”), steps out of his role right from the get go, snags a huge account with an odd ball client, Fjord (Orville Mendoza) a Finnish- Mongolian, if you will, who lures Bobby into the sauna to do a little ‘business’. He’s impressed with his sales know how.
This is all done over the protests of Stone owner’s daughter Cassandra (Katie Rose Clarke another talent with which to be reckoned) who is on his back every time she thinks he steps out of line, and if you can’t see where this story is heading… woe is me. (“Do You Believe in Love?”)
Other characters worth mentioning include Patricia Covington as Roz the HR gal at Stone Inc. She has some powerful chops. Cassandra’s smarmy boyfriend Tucker (Billy Harrington Tighe) who wants to swoop her off her feet, sell the business and settle her in to a life of an at home Mom, after being on the executive end of Stone, Inc. (Good luck on that one). He’s a pain in the behind but drew some laughs with some of his antics.
Here’s a disclosure: I never heard of Huey Lewis And The News until I did some research after hearing about the show. My hero’s of Rock Roll (way back then) included Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Bill Haley and The Comets, Fats Domino and The Platters.
However I made a reality reality check with my adult daughters and they were all on board and, of course knew about Lewis in the ‘80’s. (Where was I?)
To that end, I found the story line and the musical numbers plugged into the opening segments to be lacking in direction for the first twenty or so minutes; I had no idea where the story was going. Those around me though were almost falling out of their collective seats as soon as the lights dimmed.
My lack of enthusiasm wasn’t for the absence of talent. The nonsensical sit -com makeup of the show just never tickled my funny bone and the story was as predictable as day follows night.
That said the entire cast is over the top screaming with talent. Bobby’s band-mates F. Michael Haynie, Lucas Papaelias, and Zachary Noah Piser all talented, but no cigar (in the play) reluctantly watch him leave the band.
As fate would have it they meet up in at the Great Lakes Shipping Convention in Chicago at he annual convention where the band is still trying to make a comeback and is still in need of a lead singer.
Derek McLane’s easy on easy off set designs brings us to several locations including the Navy Pier (in the background) the box factory and convention site where under Lorin Latarro’s clever choreography has the crew dancing on plastic bubble wrap, (“Working For A Living”) a hotel lobby and rooms as a meeting place for the ‘boxers’.
As a side there is quite a bit of dancing once again showing off the overall versatility and strength of the cast and the strong direction by Gordon Greenberg. Brian Usifer’s musical arrangements of Lewis’s hits sounded more like ballads, some rhythm and blues (to my ears) than my expectations of Rock & Roll.
Paloma Young’s costumes give most of the cast a squeaky clean -cut look keeping in line with the ‘80’s time frame and Howard Binkley’s lighting design puts a soft wash on the pastels. John Shivers and David Partridge’s sound deliver the goods to most everyone’s satisfaction.
The show runs over two hours with one intermission. If it’s the hope of producers to bring another jukebox musical to Broadway, this one will need trimming and a bit more meat on its bones.
But it’s “The Power Of Love” that will drive Lewis and his team, his followers and his music to the next level. So go for it if you believe in that power and you can identify.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 21st
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Jukebox Musical
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $39.00
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
Photo: Jim Cox