Cott Kurtz
Cott Kurtz

Corey Cott and McKenzie Kurtz on Starring in The Heart of Rock and Roll

Get ready for some ’80s rock ’n’ roll fun on Broadway! The new crowd-pleasing jukebox musical The Heart of Rock and Roll, which features the chart-topping jams of Huey Lewis and the News, is cranking up the volume at the James Earl Jones Theatre. The show, which officially opened Monday, April 22, centers around an optimist named Bobby, who is a rock-and-roller at heart. On his road to self-discovery, Bobby finds himself working at a cardboard company in Milwaukee. There, he meets Cassandra, the boss’s daughter. So, do sparks fly with “The Power of Love”? You’ll have to grab a ticket to find out. In the meantime, Spectrum News NY1 entertainment journalist Frank DiLella caught up with the two stars of the musical prior to their recent opening: Broadway veteran Corey Cott, who plays Bobby, and Wicked and Frozen alum McKenzie Kurtz, who takes on Cassandra, to get to the “Heart and Soul” of the show.

The ’80s are back in full force on Broadway! You both just started previews. Talk about the party at the James Earl Jones Theatre!

COREY COTT: We’re having a blast, Frank. The thing about this show is it lives in this fun ’80s rom-com/tongue-in-cheek genre and you just don’t know how it’s going to go until you have an audience. And the things that we thought were funny in the room are turning out to be hilarious for the audience.

McKENZIE KURTZ: Audiences are really responding to this and loving it! We’re in the process of still making changes and trying out new things from night to night, and Corey is such a star, implementing whole new chunks of dialogue, which is super impressive.

Huey Lewis is a music legend. What’s it been like having him around during the creative process?

MK: He’s so kind. Last night we were getting ready for the show, and I hear Huey right outside my dressing room. And I open the door, and he’s asking my dresser, “Is it all right if I hang out here for a little bit?” And people of course are starstruck by Huey. He is such an icon, but he’s so down-to-earth.

Corey Cott in The Heart of Rock and Roll.
Corey Cott in The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Corey, this is a fictional story, not a bio-musical. But is there any of Huey in your character of Bobby?

CC: He’s there in ways that I didn’t even realize. There are “isms” in there. The first line of the show, I say, “What’s up, rock-and-rollers? Do you believe in love?” And it’s this epic rock moment; it’s in my character’s head, it’s a memory. And when I first got the script, I thought, “That’s a fun line.” And then I watched one of Huey’s concerts from the mid-’90s, and he said that line! And I thought, “This is straight out of reality.” There are moments like that throughout the show. But at the same time I’m trying to do a thing that’s not Huey; my character of Bobby is his own separate guy who has his own struggles and issues.

There’s so much to pull from when it comes to the ’80s. McKenzie, who are you pulling from for your character of Cassandra?

MK: I am pulling inspiration from Shelley Long in Cheers. Cassandra is not so much of a rocker like Bobby, but Tess McGill from Working Girl, that kind of vibe. Maybe even a Cyndi Lauper vibe in Act Two.

For both of you, vocally this score is a little different for you. You’re performing rock ’n’ roll on Broadway.

CC: One thing I will say is that Brian Usifer, our orchestrator and arranger, did an incredible job of taking songs that exist in a pop-rock medium and reimagined them by making them sound like contemporary rock songs and also songs that make sense in a musical.

Corey Cott, McKenzie Kurtz and the Company of The Heart of Rock and Roll.
Corey Cott, McKenzie Kurtz, and the cast of The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Huey Lewis told me he was inspired by Mamma Mia! to create this show years ago. How do Huey’s tunes fit into the story? Does it feel seamless?

CC: The way Huey writes is very honestly. It has sort of a blue-collar everyman style — like Bruce Springsteen, but with a little more doo-wop. Huey writes from lyrics first. He even wrote a song for the show, which is sort of my “Wizard and I” [from Wicked] moment; it’s a beautiful “I want” song. And he was tasked at writing that because we needed to know what my character of Bobby wanted. I had a session with Huey where we just talked about the lyrics and how to make the lyrics active, and it was just so wonderful to watch his process with that. Huey goes after the truth — and that’s what makes his songs able to be reimagined. The songs just work. When a writer writes from a place of truth and honesty from their heart, it’s not difficult to reimagine that into a different context.

Huey’s music aside, we also get cardboard and bubble wrap in full production numbers on stage! 

MK: It’s so fun! The choreography in this show is outstanding. Our ensemble is incredible! And Lorin Latarro, our choreographer, is incredible and is always pushing things to the limits. And there’s this bubble-wrap tap number that is so delightful. And I’m so happy I get to watch this tap sequence on stage — and people in the audience light up! It’s so creative and innovative.

Corey, this is your first time back on Broadway since before the pandemic. A lot has changed, including your family — you and your wife now have three kids. We were chatting when you began rehearsals and you said this has been a very emotional experience for you. What was your first preview like, being back on stage in front of an audience?

CC: It’s hard to explain to people the overwhelming joy it is to do a Broadway show and how transcendent it is and how exciting it is to be part of 40-something other Broadway theatres all telling a story at the same time. Where else in the world is that happening? Where you have people flocking to a small region to see stories being told at the exact same time every night? So, to be a part of that club and to be able to do a new musical and to create something — that’s as good as it gets!

John Dossett and McKenzie Kurtz in The Heart of Rock and Roll.
John Dossett and McKenzie Kurtz in The Heart of Rock and Roll. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

McKenzie, this is your first time creating a role on Broadway. Before this, you were in Wicked and Frozen.

MK: This is a dream-come-true moment. It’s been one of my biggest goals, to originate a role on Broadway. Being able to create with a cast of people who are just so willing to try new things and have so much fun — and I in particular love musical comedy. So this has been a blast.

McKenzie, the last time I saw you on stage, it was at the 20th anniversary performance of Wicked. Talk about that magical night. 

MK: It was so magical. Honestly, one of the best nights of my life. I was so grateful to have had that experience. Wicked was a dream show for me growing up, and so to get to be in the 20th anniversary cast was amazing.

Jukebox musicals are here to stay on Broadway. So, if you were to tackle another song catalog for the stage, what would you pick?

MK: I know it’s been done, but I would say Britney Spears or The Carpenters!

CC: Dave Matthews Band was one of my favorite bands growing up. His music is super theatrical. Similar to Huey’s, Dave’s music is written from an honest place. Dave is an actor — he’s done movies. I feel like there would be a way to use his music for a really cool story.

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