Review, Theater

The Heart of Rock and Roll Review: A Fun Time With Fun Music

What the world needs more of in 2024 is fun and silly with a dash of nostalgia. The great thing about The Heart of Rock and Roll on Broadway is that the story of Bobby gives us a little bit of all that to the tune of Huey Lewis and The News.

The concept of jukebox musicals isn’t new, and for many folks who attend Broadway theatre on the regular, they can sometimes be seen as less than or lazy. However, this brand-new musical is far from it.

In fact, I haven’t had as much fun at a jukebox musical as I did at The Heart of Rock and Roll since I saw & Juliet last year. I went into this show with low expectations and a familiar knowledge of the songs included in the score, having grown up listening to them.

Tommy Bracco and the Ensemble of The Heart of Rock and Roll
Tommy Bracco and the Ensemble of The Heart of Rock and Roll – Photo: Matthew Murphy

From the first moments to the final concert, this show takes us on a journey of hard decisions, love, and ambition with an underlying layer of heart and fun to keep us going. The pithy one-liners from Roz make us laugh every time, Bobby has us rooting for him regardless of what decision he will make, and most of all, Cassandra is a woman worth cheering on as she grows in her own self-confidence.

On top of all that, the performances are astounding from one character to the next. Everyone is filled to the brim with energy and has a singing voice to match. Some of the cast, such as Tommy Bracco, astound us with their big body movements that blow the choreography out of the park.

Bobby’s Dilemma
Corey Cott of The Heart of Rock and Roll
Corey Cott of The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo: Matthew Murphy

The throughline of this whole show is whether or not Bobby will choose his future at the cardboard box company or his dream to be a rock star with a record label. Just when it seems he’s made up his mind, one way or the other, the other half of his dilemma jumps in and reminds him what he would be missing out on.

It’s a journey that almost everyone is familiar with. As we’ve grown into new stages of our lives, we’ve had to make decisions that would take us either left or right. These decisions are never easy, and sometimes we even spend days or even weeks agonizing over them.

What makes Bobby a bit different is his decision has to be made within hours not days. He’s given a strictly tight timeline within a weekend event to decide if he wants an executive promotion or to finally make it big with his band, his family.

The talents of F. Michael Haynie, Raymond Lee, and John-Michael Lyles (Glenn, JJ, and Eli, respectfully) help to really sell what could be a weak and insignificant matter of the heart. Their collective pushing and playing off that Bobby is selling out and falling away from their friendship makes Bobby want his old dream that much more. It gives the conflict more stakes.

While we are talking about Bobby and his relationship with his buddies, we would be remiss not to talk about the individual performances themselves.

Bobby and His Friends Make Us Believe in Found Family
F. Michael Haynie of The Heart of Rock and Roll
F. Michael Haynie of The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo: Matthew Murphy

First and foremost, Corey Cott gives us one of the strongest performances of the entire cast as the big dreamer, somewhat naive, bordering on hapless but all-together lovable Bobby. We wouldn’t care half as much about Bobby’s journey if Cott wasn’t behind the character turning on the charm and overall can-do attitude.

Then there is the sweet, somewhat quiet, but ultimately fun-loving character of JJ. Lee takes this character and reminds us of that one friend we all have who just wants their friend to be happy while also being their biggest cheerleader.

With John-Michael Lyles’ Eli, we get the friend we all hope to have in our corner. Eli is the one who will always back your play while also being sure to include a sound, logical voice in the decision-making process. Lyles brings that love, support, and loyalty to life in a way that reaches us deep in our chest.

Finally, the group is rounded out with the loudest voice of them all, Glenn or F. Michael Haynie. We’ve all been there; we know what it means to have a friend who loves you but also can’t let go of the image they’ve created of you in their head because it best matches their own selfish desires. Haynie somehow manages to balance that out with a charm and heart that makes us not completely dislike Glenn, in fact we walk away from the show appreciating him for what role he plays in Bobby’s final decision.

To top it off, all four of these people have voices that bring a new sound to classic Huey Lewis tunes, making them their own. When Haynie, Lee, and Lyles sing about never walking alone, we believe them. Any time The Loop is onstage and performing, we are itching to get on our feet as if this is a concert, not a Broadway show.

Cassandra and Roz Score For the Ladies
McKenzie Kurtz and Billy Harrigan Tighe and the Ensemble of The Heart of Rock and Roll
McKenzie Kurtz and Billy Harrigan Tighe and the Ensemble of The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo: Matthew Murphy

The Heart of Rock and Roll could easily fall into a show about Bobby and the other male characters, of which there are many, but somehow, Cassandra and Roz steal our hearts the most. Between McKenzie Kurtz’s outlandish facial expressions as Bobby helps Cassandra work through her anxiety, and Tamika Lawrence’s deadpan delivery of every hilarious one-liner about HR and her own personal preferences, we find ourselves constantly smiling and laughing.

Kurtz knows how to work a crowd and bring on the charm in the most comedic of ways. In fact, Kurtz and Lawrence have the skills to full-on carry the show should they have needed to.

Overall, the show is funny and silly and never takes itself too seriously, and that is because of Cassandra and Roz. We root for them because they are strong, independent, and funny women in what is strictly a man’s world.

Cassandra could easily fall back in with her ex-boyfriend, Tucker (played by the equally comedically talented Billy Harrigan Tighe), because that is what society, her father, and her best friend expect her to do. However, she sees the potential connection between herself and Bobby and lets her heart lead the way.

Tamika Lawrence and F. Michael Haynie of The Heart of Rock and Roll
Tamika Lawrence and F. Michael Haynie of The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo: Matthew Murphy

She is the kind of character who wants her career and her family to be of equal importance in her life. The only character who truly sees that in her is Bobby and, later on, Fjord, so naturally, she gravitates to that.

For Roz, she might be the best Human Resources out there, thriving in the 80s, but this woman wants something more. Just like with Cassandra, her story is influenced by the presence of Bobby in her life.

However, the end results are far from what we could ever expect from either of these female characters. The ending sequence of The Heart of Rock and Roll is what really ties things together for them and ensures that these two characters are the ones we are talking about after the curtain closes.

Yes, the majority of the story is about Bobby making a decision, but it is his interactions with Cassandra and Roz along the way that change the narrative for each and every one of them.

The Heart of the Show is Humor
The Cast of The Heart of Rock and Roll
The Heart of Rock and Roll Cast – Photo: Matthew Murphy

Ultimately, my thoughts on this show come down to this. By the final bows, I was cheering on the success of all the characters that deserved it — looking at you, Tucker, and smiling so wide my mouth hurt.

From Fjord’s business ideas being an obvious illusion to IKEA and his enunciated way of saying sauna to throwaway lines pointing out the absurdity of the events unfolding along the way, this show knows how to never take itself too seriously.

Every single funny line hits the exact note it is supposed to, and the performances are a perfect blend of cheesy, silly lines and over-the-top body movements. All in all, it’s like going to see a really strong romantic comedy.

At the end of the day, The Heart of Rock and Roll can be described as an 80s silly romcom with a level of heart that makes the story timeless.

 

 

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Mads is a part-time entertainment journalist and full-time marketing content creator. They love reading the latest in Queer novels -- especially romance ones and watching the latest dramas, sci-fi/fantasy, Star Wars, and romcom films/TV shows. You can join the conversation by following them on Twitter: @dorothynyc89.

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