‘The Heart of Rock and Roll’ Broadway Review: Huey Lewis’ Jukebox Musical Is Paper Thin

If you’re going to set your musical in a cardboard box factory, why not have your chorus tap dance over bubble wrap?

If only “The Heart of Rock and Roll” were so silly every moment of its two hours and 20 minutes. Offering more than two dozen songs by Huey Lewis and the News, this jukebox musical opened Monday at the James Earl Jones Theatre.

There are way too many dead parents in Jonathan A. Abrams’ book about a Sammy Glick-like hustler named Bobby (Corey Cott). He’s the rocker who gives up his life on the stage so he can make deals selling boxes. His dad is dead, but Bobby has his prized guitar.

Bobby falls in love with Paige (McKenzie Kurtz) whose mom is also dead but whose dad (John Dossett) owns the factory that makes the boxes. There are shades here of “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” and “The Pajama Party,” but those vintage musicals are about dresses (pretty) and pajamas (sexy), respectively. Abrams delivers a few good jokes about boxes and other packing supplies, but not enough to make up for all the tears shed by Bobby and Paige over their dead parents. It’s pure cardboard schmaltz.

A moment I found funny but that inspired little laughter in the performance I attended came when Paige’s dad accepts a lifetime achievement award from some packing supplies association. I swear the audience at the James Earl Jones Theatre accepted the scene solemnly, as if watching the Oscars or the People’s Choice Awards.

Gordon Greenberg directs and Lorin Latarro choreographs, achieving some kind of immortality with all that bubble wrap. Around the edges of this production are a few inspired performances. Raymond J. Lee’s wacky rocker, Tamika Lawrence’s un-PC HR director and Billy Harrigan Tighe’s bleach-blond ukulele-playing male bimbo invariably deliver laughs despite the paper-thin material.

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