Saturday, June 15, 2024

Off Broadway: Joey Pantoliano, Constantine Maroulis Lead a Sizzling Cast in “Rock and Roll Man” About Famed DJ Alan Freed


Maybe the best surprise performance of the summer theater season is going on in the bowels of New World Stages on West 50th St. Joe Pantoliano, aka Joey Pants, the charismatic Cheshire cat smiling star of things like “The Sopranos” and “Risky Business,” is singing in a musical.

The show is “Rock and Roll Man,” about Alan Freed, the DJ who literally launched (and named) rock and roll, got caught in the crosshairs of the mob and J. Edgar Hoover, and died at age 43. He was the first example of “Live fast, die young” in the rock era.

Freed got his start as a disc jockey in Cleveland, but was swept up in the teen pandemonium to New York’s WINS (this was before it was a news station). In the musical, which tells the whole story, Pantaliano plays two parts. In Act 1, he’s the owner of the record store that sponsored Freed’s Cleveland radio show. In the second act, he’s the very corrupt Morris Levy, owner of Roulette Records, who treated the record business like it was his Mafia.

It’s the first time Joey’s been in a musical, and he surprises even his most ardent fans with a terrific voice and an ability to play good guy/bad guy with a lot of panache.

Constantine Maroulis, of “American Idol” fame, plays Freed, who didn’t sing in real life but gets to a lot in this show. When Maroulis, who starred on Broadway in “Rock of Ages,” gets to let loose, he rocks the house.

“Rock and Roll Man” mixes a couple of very good new songs with jukebox hits from the late 50s and the early 60s like “Tutti Frutti,” “Maybellene,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Yakety Yak,” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” Some standout performers among the dazzling ensemble include the amazing Rodrick Covington as Little Richard, and Valisia Lakae as LaVern Baker. Bob Ari is a menacing Hoover, who never prosecuted Freed for anything but ruined his image and probably drove him to an early death. Don’t miss the big voiced Eric B Turner, who plays a variety of roles including Bo Diddley.

“Rock and Roll Man” is playing off Broadway but it’s ready for the big time. The sets, costumes, lighting are top notch and would look great on a bigger stage. They’ve already extended the run here, and for good reasons. It’s a cool night, and lots of fun!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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