'The Heart of Rock and Roll' review — rock out to Huey Lewis hits

Read our review of The Heart of Rock and Roll on Broadway, a new musical set to the hit songs of Huey Lewis and the News, at the James Earl Jones Theatre.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

The Heart of Rock and Roll, the new musical set to the rock hits of Huey Lewis and the News, knows what its audience wants. Forget the power of love: That’s there, but this show is powered end-to-end by ‘80s nostalgia and — to unify those who experienced the ‘80s with those who didn’t — the biceps of Corey Cott.

Cott, our lead, opens the show (in a sleeveless jumpsuit) as Bobby, the lead singer of a News-esque rock band giving the audience a concert. As the band teases us with a rockin’ snippet of “Do You Believe In Love,” the setup falls away and that jumpsuit reveals itself not as distressed rock star chic, but Bobby’s uniform for his lowly job at a cardboard manufacturer. The band sure wasn’t paying the bills.

Surprisingly, that setting is where the love comes in. The Heart of Rock and Roll follows the trite-and-true rom-com blueprint: Bobby, now determined to become a sales exec, teams up with buttoned-up accountant Cassandra (McKenzie Kurtz, bringing excellent vocal and comedic chops) to land a major client. Spoiler: Sparks fly. Bobby is this show’s version of the hometown hunk who teaches the girl the true meaning of love and family (and finally gets her obnoxious, preppy old boyfriend out of the picture), and she does the same in return.

There is a kind of "HR-approved" feel to the whole enterprise: Though a return to rock beckons, Bobby is reluctant to lose his place on the corporate ladder. Despite brief suggestions of the contrary — including the brilliantly, satirically staged "Stuck With You," in which Cassandra imagines an unfulfilling life with her old boyfriend (Billy Harrigan Tighe) — the musical largely equates happiness with rather "traditional" love and corporate fulfillment, at least as far as the leads are concerned. The pursuit of music is reserved for the side characters and misfits. It’s all more Reagan than rock and roll.

Then again, I didn't attend The Heart of Rock and Roll for its politics and I'd wager most people aren't, either. Nor does the show want you to. Your willingness to overlook this and the show's many plot contrivances will likely be proportional to your interest in either or both of the crowd-pleasers named at the start of this review. But I must say, your level of fun likely won’t. I am neither an ‘80s kid nor a person with any outsized interest in Cott’s rugged good looks, but I had a good, old-fashioned great time for 2.5 hours.

Director Gordon Greenberg’s production is eager to sweep you up in its bright lights, even brighter costumes, and heart-thumping sound. Why not let it? The Heart of Rock and Roll is still going to be beating around you regardless.

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The Heart of Rock and Roll summary

The Heart of Rock and Roll kicks off as Bobby, who traded his job as rock-band frontman for a corporate job, gets fired from that job for going over the head of his boss, Chuck Stone (John Dossett), to prove his worth as a high-powered salesman. Turns out, Stone's daughter, Cassandra, wants the same thing — but he doesn't have the rationality, and she doesn't have the charisma.

A meeting with a major client (Orville Mendoza plays the founder of Swedish furniture giant "Idea") offers them the opportunity to team up and prove themselves. But just as they start to succeed and fall in love, Bobby's band is offered a major touring gig and record deal — and he has a choice to make.

What to expect from The Heart of Rock and Roll

Lewis does not appear in The Heart of Rock and Roll, but he provided the pre-recorded voiceover telling audiences to “put away their Rubik’s cubes” (i.e., cell phones) before the show starts. That the mere sound of his voice received immediate, raucous applause is evidence of the strong admiration for Lewis that brought the musical into existence in the first place.

The result that emerged is one-third Hallmark movie, one-third rock concert, and one-third '80s music video. When Cott and his band, the Loop, take the stage (composed of actor-musicians Raymond J. Lee, John-Michael Lyles, and rock-vocal MVP F. Michael Haynie), the energy is as electric and fiery as at any stadium concert. Ditto for any time the standout Tamika Lawrence, as HR professional and Bobby's friend Roz, opens her mouth to sing (or speak, for that matter).

The show transforms into an '80s music video when the ensemble takes center stage with Lorin Latarro's choreography — Act 2 opens with full-on jazzercise, and three women personify a prized guitar during the sultry "I Want a New Drug."

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What audiences are saying about The Heart of Rock and Roll

At the time of publication, The Heart of Rock and Roll has an 89% approval rating from audiences on the review aggregator Show-Score.

  • "I did not know any Huey Lewis songs and I still enjoyed the music and singing. As long as you don't dislike the 80's rock tunes, not knowing the songs won't be an issues. The heroine was so great - her acted awkwardness and comical gestures were to the point!" - Show-Score user rrlily
  • "If you liked Mamma Mia you will probably like this." - Show-Score user JoeyFranko
  • "This is a cheesy, predictable show, but sometimes a lighthearted piece of entertainment is what you need." - Show-Score user MaxD
  • "I nearly cried when Corey Cott sang a solo." - Show-Score user DeniseLuvsShows

Read more audience reviews of The Heart of Rock and Roll on Show-Score.

Who should see The Heart of Rock and Roll

  • Huey Lewis and the News fans shouldn't miss The Heart of Rock and Roll — the show was tailor-made just for you, with over two dozen hit songs from the '80s band and plenty of Easter eggs about the band's history hidden in the production.
  • Fans of the musical Newsies — hear me out. There's gymnastic, high-stepping choreography, a romance between a charismatic rebel and a boss's daughter, a romantic scene on a rooftop, and multiple actors — including Cott, Dossett, and featured ensemble member Tommy Bracco — who previously performed in Newsies.
  • Couples looking for a fun, romantic, and entertaining date night will find it at The Heart of Rock and Roll.

Learn more about The Heart of Rock and Roll on Broadway

The Heart of Rock and Roll offers an enjoyable and escapist night out. Don your finest neons, grab a pre-show margarita (or two), and get ready to rock.

Learn more and get The Heart of Rock and Roll tickets on New York Theatre Guide. The Heart of Rock and Roll is at the James Earl Jones Theatre.

Additional The Heart of Rock and Roll content

Photo credit: The Heart of Rock and Roll on Broadway. (Photos by Matthew Murphy)

Originally published on

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