By David Walters
A captivating, toe tapping ride with the top down and the radio cranked up high.
Rock & Roll Man is an electrifying bio-musical that pays homage to the legendary disc jockey, concert producer, and rock ‘n’ roll icon Alan Freed (played with a warming charm by Constantine Maroulis) who popularized the babies name ROCK AND ROLL. It champions the successes and travails of the man that led the way to making the genre an indelible part of our culture. He not only popularized the medium, but his bi-racial concert tours (causing riots and FBI investigations), his refusal to play white versions of black songs, as well as his movies (some of the first music videos), made him one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
With its energetic performances and a delightfully malleable set, the production succeeds in capturing the essence of the era (50s) and the mostly indomitable spirit of its central character. While it falls slightly short of perfection, there’s no denying the infectious energy and entertainment value that Rock & Roll Man brings to the stage.
One of the standout aspects of the musical is the talent of the cast infused with an undeniable passion for the music and the story they are telling. Their ability to embody the larger-than-life personas of the rock legends (Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Drifters, LaVern Baker, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, The Platters, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) was a highlight, and they bring a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation to every scene and musical number. Writers Gary Kupper, Larry Marshak, and Rose Caiola, deliver a score (with original music by Gary Kupper) that is both nostalgic and powerful, instantly transporting the audience back to the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll.
The production design is fun and flexible. The sets, lighting, and costumes perfectly capture the glitz and glamour of the rock ‘n’ roll era, creating a vibrant and immersive experience. The choreography is energetic, showcasing the signature moves and dance styles of the time. These visual elements add an extra layer of authenticity to the performance, enhancing the overall enjoyment for the audience.
However, while Rock & Roll Man is undeniably entertaining, it occasionally lacks depth in its storytelling. The narrative tends to skim over some significant aspects of the protagonist’s life, leaving certain moments feeling underdeveloped or rushed in favor of the tunes. While the focus is primarily on the music, a deeper exploration of the personal struggles and emotional journey of the central character would have added more depth and resonance to the production. But come on, what am I talking about, ultimately the audience is there for the music and not a history lesson. The music, even by today’s standards, still does not fail to deliver.
Despite these minor flaws, Rock & Roll Man is a highly enjoyable musical that will have you tapping your feet and singing along to 20+ classic early rock hits (Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Yakety Yak,” “Peggy Sue,” “Lucille,” “I Put A Spell On You,” and “Great Balls of Fire”). The talented cast and crew deliver an exhilarating experience, transporting the audience to a time when rock ‘n’ roll ruled the airwaves. If you’re a fan of the genre or have a fondness for the legendary figures who shaped early rock music, Rock & Roll Man is definitely worth a visit to this energetic and visually captivating musical that successfully brings the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll to life. While it sticks too often to the presentational instead of personal and drawing the audience in to the story, the infectious performances, dynamic music, and outstanding production values make for an entertaining and nostalgic journey.
Rock & Roll Man, with book by Gary Kupper, Larry Marshak, and Rose Caiola, original music and lyrics by Gary Kupper, Vintage Rock & Roll Elements developed by Marshak Classic Music LLC and Gary Kupper Music, Randal Myler, and choreography by Stephanie Klemons.
The Cast: Constantine Maroulis, Joe Pantoliano, Bob Ari, Rodrick Covington, Valisia LeKae, Joe Barbara, Jamonté, Andy Christopher, Natalie Kaye Clater, Lawrence Dandridge, AJ Davis, Autumn Guzzardi, Anna Hertel, Matthew S. Morgan, Chase Peacock, Dominque Scott, Bronwyn Tarboton, Eric Turner
340 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.