The Heart of Rock and Roll – The Musical Based on Songs by Huey Lewis and The News

The most clever element of the world premiere production of The Heart of Rock and Roll is how the creators were able to develop a storyline from the otherwise disconnected songs by Huey Lewis and The News. That is unlike the recent world premiere of Margaritaville nearby at La Jolla Playhouse, in which the songs are from a pretty coherent songbook; Jimmy Buffet built his career establishing a character that was ripe for an extended storytelling treatment.

The Heart of Rock and Roll at The Old Globe in San Diego is a frothy concoction, juxtaposing a guy’s pull to make it big in his garage band and a gal trying to find a place in her father’s cardboard box company.

The latter is the jumping off point; the box company develops their theme song…which of course is “Hip to be Square.” Cassandra is the owner’s daughter, she is played by Katie Rose Clarke, who grows into her confidence as the evening progresses. Matt Doyle plays Bobby, the lead singer torn between allegiance to his band, his love of music and his need to get a ‘real’ career (cue “Workin’ For a Livin’”). He takes a low level job at the mid-West box company, finds a music-loving colleague bored in her HR role, and soon leverages his charisma to set up a huge deal for the company.

Orville Mendoza as Fjord, Katie Rose Clarke as Cassandra, Matt Doyle as Bobby, James Royce Edwards as Ensemble, and Robert Pendilla as Ensemble in The Heart of Rock & Roll, running September 6 – October 21, 2018 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

Naturally, sparks fly momentarily between Bobby and Cassandra, further complicating each character’s goals (time for “Do You Believe in Love”). Bobby’s bandmates are able to get a manager’s attention, with promises of a tour opening for a nationwide band. In an inside joke which will likely only play in LA or NYC, the manager’s name is Nina Nazoff.

Matt Doyle as Bobby and Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Nina Nazoff. Photo by Jim Cox.

F. Michael Haynie as Glenn, Lucas Papaelias as JJ, Matt Doyle as Booby, and Zachary Noah Piser as Eli. Photo by Jim Cox.

The second act picks up steam, mostly because the plot line is well established and the audience has become accustomed (and amused) at how the songs are comfortably shoehorned into the proceedings. When Bobby is reunited with his pawned Fender Stratocaster, he ponders which direction his path will take him, music or corporate life (yes, here comes “I Want a New Drug”).

(front) Matt Doyle as Bobby and Katie Rose Clarke as Cassandra. Photo by Jim Cox.

Direction by Gordon Greenberg keeps the show chugging along, and kudos to some inventive choreography by Lorin Latarro. And of course, big kudos to Jonathan A. Abrams and Tyler Mitchell for stitching together the story and book in clever fashion.

Huey Lewis is no dummy, back in the day he leveraged his impressive perfect SAT score to get into Cornell’s engineering program, and like Bobby in the play Lewis faced a choice of life on the road in a rock band. Years later Lewis took a role in the Broadway production of Chicago.

Lewis likely did not expect at the height of his music career in the ’80s (with nineteen Top 10 singles) he’d see the songs decades later in a musical. “Perfect World” indeed.



Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.