Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 10, 2019

Review: Colonial Theatre, Rock and Roll Man: The Alan Freed Story

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
through July 21
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware
With 47 songs and a cast of 19, you might well expect “Rock and Roll Man: The Alan Freed  Story” to be a blast from the past. But despite a competent cast, most of whom recreate rock and roll legends, the weak script vacillates from musical review to biography, to cultural comment on race and teens in the 1950s and ‘60s. The script written by Gary Kupper, Larry Marshak, and Rose Caiola is the problem in this production, and director Randal Myler seems to struggle with trying to find the relevancy in this toe-tapping, hand-clapping review that is fun, but ultimately unsatisfying.

Alan Freed, the Cleveland disc jockey who coined the term “rock and roll” introduced white American teens to “Negro Music” on the radio and launched a number of extraordinary Black performers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, LaVerne Baker, and Frankie Lyman to the broader audience is a worthy subject for a bio-show. But, his battles with alcoholism, payola, and an unscrupulous business partner are interesting, but underdeveloped.

Alan Campbell, who plays Freed is likable and possesses a beautiful voice in many of the original numbers that bring a contemporary legitimate musical tinge to the story. He is equally well matched by the wonderful Bob Ari in a dual role of the good guy, bad guy business partner who helped Freed along the way. George Wendt, from TV’s “Cheers” fame demonstrates his great timing as J. Edgar Hoover in the “dream sequence” that allows the audience to enter Freed’s delirium before his death.

There are some stand-out performers portraying the recording artists—too many to name, but the quartet who perform as the Drifters and the Platters as well as other, individual artists, weave most of the tunes together throughout the show. Their rendition of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is as close to a showstopper as it gets. Richard Crandle nails his impersonation of Little Richard and connects well with the audience in a “wink and nod” to the original performer who became an icon for flash and fun.

This type of show needs pop, energy, and sizzle, and unfortunately, this production doesn’t rise to that occasion. Music in the pit is provided by an excellent six-piece band led by Dave Keyes, but the tempos seem slow and the volume so even among the musical numbers, that rock and roll of the ‘50s and ‘60s seems nostalgic, but bland.