The Heart of Rock & Roll is a new musical at The Old Globe. It runs through October 21. The title is borrowed from the famous Huey Lewis and the News song, but this is not a musical about Huey Lewis. This is a musical with an original story which uses the songs of Huey Lewis. This type of endeavor is commonly called a “jukebox musical.”
There are generalized spoilers ahead. I don’t mention anything specific but some of what I’m writing about does involve the structure of the story.
The show opens with a musical number, “Walking on a Thin Line,” being performed by a band called The Loop in a Chicago bar. After the performance, the lead singer, Bobby, decides he has had a enough of the chaotic Rock ‘n’ Roll life and calls it quits.
The next scene finds Bobby working in a cubicle selling cardboard boxes. I can only assume the cardboard box industry was chosen in order to incorporate the Huey Lewis song, “Hip to Be Square,” which is the show’s second musical number.
The point is not cardboard boxes. Bobby could have been selling medical devices or life insurance. However, Huey Lewis didn’t write, “It’s hip to have whole-life coverage.” The point is to juxtapose the cubicle life versus the rock ‘n’ roll life. At least that’s how I’m looking at it.
The drama revolves around the opposing forces of chaos (rock ‘n’ roll life) and order (the cubicle.) Chaos and order are fundamental elements of life. How fundamental? Our brains have a left and a right hemisphere. The left hemisphere deals with creativity (chaos) and the right hemisphere creates structure and order. It’s that fundamental.
We find this dualistic model in philosophical traditions from Daoism, with the elements of Yin and Yang, to the samkhya system of Indian Philosophy, with Prakriti and Purusha, to Nietzsche’s book The Birth of Tragedy, where he expounds upon the Dionysian and Apollonian concept — Dionysus is the god of wine and dance (chaos), Apollo the god the sun (order).
Much of Bobby’s development as a character happens when he gets in trouble by trying to mix too much rock ‘n’ roll with cardboard boxes and vice versa. He is bouncing back and forth between extreme order and extreme chaos because he doesn’t have the ability to balance them.
At one point, Bobby gets everything he’s ever wanted and has nothing whatsoever at the same time. As the second act unfolds, Bobby goes from success to success, but completely fails in the process. It is a well conceived act of theater, written by Jonathan A. Abrams, which makes The Heart of Rock & Roll much more than just another jukebox musical.