In the new musical, “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” a boatload of well-known hits and lesser-known songs by Huey Lewis and The News provide the underpinning and pulse of a pleasing and foot-taping story line that delivers on “The Power of Love.”
We first meet Bobby (Matt Doyle) fronting for a struggling Chicago band called The Loop. Having followed his dream of musical stardom well into his 30s with nothing to show for it, one night the somber lyrics of “Walking on a Thin Line” hit too close to home and he calls it quits, taking his ambition to a 9-to-5 sales job in a cardboard box factory in Milwaukee. In this family-run business the boss’s daughter Cassandra (Katie Rose Clarke) has ambitions of her own to one day become CEO.
Tony Award winning scenic designer Derek McLane has constructed a mesmerizing set of cubes that, combined with the lighting design of Tony winner Howell Binkley, effortlessly transforms to resemble stacked cardboard boxes, an array of bright buttons on a jukebox and other critical scenic elements.
While placing the action in a box factory might seem like a lazy way to insert the song “Hip to be Square” into the storyline, it proves to be genius as the action moves to a trade convention back in Bobby’s old stomping grounds in the Windy City.
Tony Award winning costume designer Paloma Young has too much fun using Styrofoam peanuts gathered up in netting to create full skirts and overlapping cardboard flaps and packing tape to create other astounding garb worn by the staff on booth duty. Thanks to choreographer Lorin Latarro, a roll of giant bubble wrap unfurled across the stage becomes a percussive dance platform for the ensemble. Fred Astaire couldn’t have done better.
Complications arise when Bobby oversteps his authority and torpedoes a deal with a customer that Cassandra had been carefully nurturing. Licking his wounds, Bobby drops in to see how The Loop is doing and is given the opportunity on the spot to step back into the spotlight as lead singer because the guy they just hired can’t make bail.
Will Bobby return to Milwaukee and try to turn a spark of interest in Cassandra into a flame? Or, will he once again reach for the brass ring of fame by going on tour with The Loop?
The answers require the input and push back of jaded concert promoter Nina (Lindsay Nicole Chambers), college friend Paige (Paige Faure) eager for Cassandra to move back to Chicago, Cassandra’s stuck-on-himself ex-boyfriend Tucker (Billy Harrigan Tighe) who sings – wait for it – “Stuck on You,” a Finish-Mongolian big shot named Fjord (Orville Mendoza) and box factory HR manager Roz (Patrice Covington) who understands Bobby better than anyone given she once had show business dreams of her own.
Music director is Matt Doebler with music supervision, arrangements and exuberant orchestrations by Brian Usifer.
Yep, “The Heart of Rock & Roll” is still beating.