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Checking In With Gordon Greenberg, Director of “The Heart of Rock and Roll”

Fans of the 1980s can rejoice! About to open on Broadway is The Heart of Rock and Roll, an original new musical comedy inspired by the music of Huey Lewis and the News. The show, about Bobby (Corey Cott), a musician who said goodbye to rock music in favor of a stable job and his boss Cassandra (McKenzie Kurtz), who has only known the family business. Working together at a big conference proves to open up new doors for them both personally and professionally – all to the backdrop of the band’s big hits and some deep cuts.

Garden State Journal spoke with Gordon Greenberg, the shows veteran director, about what a great fit Huey Lewis and the News’ music is for the show, what he loves about the theatre – and the big discovery he and his company have in store during the show.

How did you first get attached to this show?

 

They interviewed a few directors about the first draft, which was a very, very different from what you will see on Broadway, and we found ourselves on the same page – excited about the spirit and joy of the music – and how we could create our own winky John Hughes-style 80’s movie on stage.

Did you listen to Huey Lewis and the News over the course of their career?

I grew up with Huey as the soundtrack of my high school career. His music has such a theatricality to it: loads of horns and juicy melodies that reminded me of everything I loved about Broadway. I would drive around with the windows down singing along at the top of my lungs, feeling exhilarated and loving life. Every song in the show has a Proustian connection for me.

What are your favorite memories of the 1980s?

I was a child actor in the early 80’s. I couldn’t wait to go to acting camp (Stagedoor Manor), but my parents made me wait until after my bar mitzvah. I made the best friends of my life there – and got a manager and agent, which led to my first Broadway show as an actor, The Little Prince and the Aviator, with Anthony Rapp, Michael York, and Ellen Greene. We ran about four weeks, which was my first lesson in the unpredictable nature of a life in the theatre.

What do you think makes the show so appealing for current audiences?This show is pure joy. It’s an original story that embraces and sends up all the archetypal characters from 80’s movies. It aims to entertain and is surprisingly moving and human. Getting the tone right – where we are in on the joke – has been taken some time, but I think we’re in the pocket now. It’s a delicious guilty pleasure that leaves people happier than when they walked in – and in a season full of wonderfully important and worthy shows, we are the fun machine.

Your work covers a wide swath of shows, but I don’t know that you’ve helmed many jukebox musicals (or as I prefer to call them, catalog musicals). Have there been any differences working between them and between more traditional book musicals?Interestingly, Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn was largely a jukebox musical, using Irving Berlin songs. More than half of the songs in the stage adaptation were not in the movie, which in and of itself was a jukebox musical crafted to showcase some of Berlin’s favorite songs. As a writer, I enjoy the puzzle of reverse engineering a narrative and characters that utilize a particular catalogue, but in the end, you pursue the same goals doing any play or musical – finding the right tone, the world, the stakes, the wit, the truth and humanity in the characters and circumstances, and empowering the actors to do their best work – to have a dangerous and exciting chemical reactions on stage every night – with safe guardrails.

What is your favorite Huey Lewis and the News song?Ah! That’s so hard. How do you choose your favorite child? I have always loved so many of the songs in the show – “Power of Love”, “Stuck With You,”, “Do You Believe in Love,” and of course the title song – every single song in the show is a bop. People can hardly stay in their seats. But the song that is newest to me was a surprise find. It’s called “The Only One” and it’s about a person singing to their father, who passed away in a drunk driving accident. It fit incredibly well into our narrative and is now very powerfully sung by Corey Cott at the emotional climax of the show. It’s heartbreaking and the best kind of theatre. What a gift it was to discover.

What has been the most fun aspect of doing the show?

I do love challenging myself by moving between styles, exercising different aspects of my sensibility. Last year, I did Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf at the Geffen with Calista Flockhart and Zach Quinto – and then Crime & Punishment at the Globe, so coming back to The Heart of Rock and Roll is like a beach holiday, emotionally if not practically. There are so many moving parts on a giant musical like this, it’s like steering a cruise ship. But still, it’s a beautiful ship!

Go here for more information about The Heart of Rock and Roll.