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‘The Heart of Rock and Roll’ puts the comedy in rom-com

Director Gordon Greenberg discusses creating a laugh-out-loud, ’80s-set “confection” of a musical.

(L-R) Corey Cott as Bobby and McKenzie Kurtz as Cassandra (foreground) in “The Heart of Rock and Roll” on Broadway, 2024 (Credit: Matthew Murphy)

The new musical “The Heart of Rock and Roll” offers what is currently a rarity on Broadway: a bonafide romantic comedy. The show follows Bobby, a bandleader turned cardboard factory assembly line worker aiming for the corporate sales floor, and Cassandra, the cardboard company’s accountant trying to keep her decades-old family business afloat. As Bobby angles for a promotion, he becomes the man in Cassandra’s corner, but his former bandmates come calling with the opportunity of a lifetime. 

Director Gordon Greenberg first looked at a script by book writer Jonathan A. Abrams nearly 10 years ago, in a nascent stage. “What I saw [in the pages], and especially in Jonathan as a person, was that kindness and same generosity of spirit that I associate with ’80s movies that I loved by people like Garry Marshall and John Hughes,” Greenberg said. “A world that now seems innocent by comparison to the way we live and process information. I think it’s not unlike how my parents felt in the ’80s and ’90s about the ’50s.”

Seeing that heart-forward sensibility, Greenberg signed on to the musical — set to a score inspired by the songs of Huey Lewis and the News. 

Greenberg jokes that the first script “bears almost no resemblance to what you see onstage,” but its tone does. Bobby works for a cardboard box company, after all. There’s a purity there, but it also allowed for a tongue-in-cheek opening number in “Hip to Be Square.”

“I’ve always thought of this as a show that lives a foot off the ground,” Greenberg said. “It has that sort of buoyancy and fizz to it.” Greenberg counts Marshall (“my comedic idol”), known for rom-coms like “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries,” as well as Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar among his inspirations.

So it should be no surprise that “The Heart of Rock and Roll” combines nostalgia, wit and a self-aware over-the-topness that has audiences guffawing. Between the endearing goofiness of McKenzie Kurtz’s Cassandra, the absurdity of Orville Mendoza’s furniture titan character Fjord and the comic uptightness of Billy Harrison Tighe’s Tucker (Cassandra’s ex), there is much to relate to and laugh at.

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