Regional Reviews: San Diego
So, the field is crowded, but what's one more among friends?
The Old Globe thinks it has the answer in their world premiere production: a musical based on the songs of Huey Lewis (and The News). Titled The Heart of Rock & Roll, it is characterized by lots of energy, attractive performers, colorful sets, and a romcom book with heavy emphasis on contemporary tropes.
Like the Queen of the genre, Mamma Mia!, The Heart of Rock & Roll develops a plot (by Jonathan A. Abrams, based on a story he wrote with Tyler Mitchell) and weaves the songs in as if they were written for it. Bobby (Matt Doyle) fronts a band that plays second-rate clubs in Chicago while looking for a big break. After receiving a scathing critique from promoter Nina (Lindsay Nicole Chambers), Bobby decides to hang it up and work on making his day job into a career. Starting by charming his customer service supervisor Roz (Patrice Covington), Bobby pushes to move into sales and marketing at Stone, Inc., a family-owned purveyor of cardboard boxes whose patriarch (John Dossett) is looking to retire.
Waiting in the wings is Cassandra (Katie Rose Clarke), Stone's number-cruncher daughter. Cassandra is focused on business success, but she's being chased by former flame Tucker (Billy Harrigan Tighe), who leads a spunky male a cappella group. Bobby decides that Cassandra is his key to successand, of course, as he tries to impress he ends up smitten. Standard romantic comedy conventions apply, and Bobby gets a chance to make it with the band as well as with the company. Which one will he pick? I'll give you a hint: the closing song is The Power of Love.
Now, that's more plot than Mamma Mia! and its recent movie sequel combined, which is probably a good thing.
The large cast, which includes quirky, loyal, bandmates (F. Michael Haynie, Lucas Papaelias, and Zachary Noah Piser), an eccentric investor (Orville Mendoza), who might become Stone's biggest customer, and an ensemble that dances up a storm (to Lorin Latarro's inventive choreography) all contribute to keeping the energy level high over two-and-a-half hours.
Director Gordon Greenberg keeps things moving, too, while Derek McLane's scenic design makes generous use of iconic Loop landmarks, and Paloma Young's costumes ooze Midwestern style and grunge, reminding audiences of the Chicago locale. Howell Binkley is the only lighting designer you'd want for a Broadway-style rock music show, and John Shivers and David Patridge's sound design makes a dance number on bubble wrap play like precision tap.
It all adds up to a critic-proof money machine that's intended to have 'em woo-hooing in the seats (and, at least at the performance I saw, succeeded). If that's your thing, storm the box office.
The Heart of Rock & Roll, through October 21, 2018, on The Old Globe's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, in San Diego's Balboa Park. Showtimes are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm with matinee performances Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 619-23-GLOBE (234-5623), or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org .
The cast also includes Paige Faure, Christopher Ramirez, Nicolette Burton, James Royce Edwards, Oyoyo Joi, Lucas Papaelias, Robert Pendilla, MiMi Scardulla, Salisha Thomas, Josh Tolle, Bryan Banville, and Katie Banville.