It’s hard not to feel good when listening to Huey Lewis and the News, so it’s no accident that THE HEART OF ROCK AND ROLL at The Old Globe, manages to instill the 80’s loveable, pop vibe from the music into this high octane musical about following your dreams and the power of love.
It opens with Bobby (Matt Doyle) the lead singer for the Chicago based band The Loop, and his band mates Glenn (F. Michael Hyane), Eli (Zachary Noah Piser), and JJ (Lucas Papaelias) ending their set to a distinct lack of audience or fanfare. Despondent over not making any progress after so many years Bobby decides to leave the music business. So with a ten year gap in his work history he finds his place at the family run Stone Cardboard company in Milwaukee.
As he tries to move up the ladder, under the watchful eye of Roz (Patrice Covington) the HR Manager, Bobby aims for the Executive Sales team. His chance to impress everyone comes in the form of an industry conference happening back in Chicago over the weekend.
Cassandra (Katie Rose Clarke) is part of the executive team at Stone, and while she is the best at analytics, she wants to prove to her father that she is ready to be CEO. She thinks the convention is the perfect place for her to make that move. She and Bobby team up to impress their biggest potential client, a man named Fjord (Orville Mendoza), with the goals to land the account, and both come up winners.
Complications arise in the form of Cassandra’s best friend Paige (Paige Faure) who wants to help Cassandra let loose and have a good time instead of working, and potentially give ex-boyfriend Tucker (Billy Harrington Tighe) another chance. Bobby’s band mates also just happen to be in need of a lead singer for their upcoming gig which just may be their big break.
Full of witty winks and nods the show finds clever ways to get the songs to work within the narrative much to the delight of the audience. Where else but a cardboard box company to have a character sing “It’s Hip To Be Square” while dancing around cubicles?
Is there any product more beloved than bubble wrap? Or a musical ensemble tap number that wasn’t an audience favorite? Of course not. So it’s a true crowd pleaser when “Workin’ For A Livin” becomes a tap dance number on top of bubble wrap. If you’re going to set the show at a packaging products convention then you might as well have fun with it.
The show is bright and sparkling with a sense of optimism and never straying too far from the 80’s pop influence of its music. With music this beloved this show could easily be a karaoke musical comedy, but Brian Usifer’s arrangements of the many hit songs help transform the songs into ballads, a capella numbers, and each are honed to fit in each spot in the story. The animated choreography by Lorin Latarro is creative, and seems to channel the vivacity of the music.
Doyle as Bobby has a great, soulful voice, and charisma that gives all of his songs an appealing vitality and enthusiasm. Clarke’s Cassandra is endearing as she strives to prove herself worthy of taking the lead of the family company, and has a voice that shines in her second act solo “It Hit Me Like a Hammer.” Their duet on “Do You Believe in Love?” is delightful and goes a long way to selling their connection.
Patrice Covington shines as Roz, an HR manager who has killer pipes and can write a killer employee handbook. Billy Harrington Tighe is entertaining as the smarmy ex-boyfriend trying to win back Cassandra’s affections, and who has his own group of a capella singers who follow him around to help him woo her.
Sets by Derek McLane are light and creative, allowing the transitions to multiple locations to happen in a flash. Lighting by Howell Binkley and some fun costume design by Paloma Young help bring everything together.
The show could use some editing with a very long first act, goals that seem fairly attainable given their circumstances, and an ending that paints a character into a corner before it is magically solved with one sentence. The ex-boyfriend is too obnoxious to actually pose a threat, and the best friend Paige seems like a terrible friend who doesn’t know Cassandra at all. But none of this really matters – the audience is there for the music and the magic of Huey Lewis, and this show delivers on that feel good pop.
Without a doubt, this is an entertaining musical comedy that promises the audience a good time while delivering on the promise of the power of love. While a bit more depth to the characters might help the motivation, this show is ready to ship to Broadway – they already have the bubble wrap!
THE HEART OF ROCK AND ROLL is playing at The Old Globe through October 21st. For tickets and show information go to www.theodglobe.org