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A man with a vision

Bucks County Playhouse’s ‘Rock and Roll Man: The Alan Freed Story’ stars ‘Cheers’ actor George Wendt and Tony nominee Alan Campbell

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

It’s been one heck of a year for the Bucks County Playhouse. Its summer production of “Guys and Dolls” broke box office records as the theater’s top grossing show, increasing ticket sales by 25 percent. Meanwhile, its production of “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” was brought to the Kimmel Center for a summer engagement, making the Playhouse the first regional theater company invited to perform there. Now, it looks like BCP is in the midst of another hit with the world premiere of “Rock and Roll Man: The Alan Freed Story” starring Tony nominee Alan Campbell and Cheers star George Wendt.

Local melodies: At a special preview event, the quartet of Early Clover, A.J. Davis, Jerome Jackson and Dr. Eric B. Turner were all smiles as they performed several tunes from the show, including the uptempo Good Rockin’ Tonight. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

The biographical musical premiered at the Bucks County Playhouse earlier this month and will run through Oct. 1. Set in the 1950s, the show uncovers the true story of Alan Freed, better known as the Father of Rock and Roll, who introduced greats such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry to wider audiences. “Rock and Roll Man” follows the young DJ, played by Campbell, in his quest to give America the music it wants to hear that no radio station will play. Though he’s pursued by notorious FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, played by Wendt, he perseveres and ultimately succeeds in giving the country songs such as “Sh-Boom” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.”

In a special preview event, the creators and stars of “Rock and Roll Man” provided an nside look at the characters, production and music of the third world premiere at Bucks County Playhouse this year. The first to speak was producing director Alexander Fraser, who said he’s “tickled pink” over the brand new musical.

“Rock and roll is here to stay at Bucks County Playhouse. We are delighted to be presenting this moving tale of the Father of Rock and Roll, welcoming a new creative team to the Playhouse,” Fraser said. “We know our audiences love rock and roll given the success of our encore production of ‘Buddy.’ We are pleased to be sharing with them another side of the early days of this truly American art form.”

Next up was co-author and producer Rose Caiola, a four-time Tony Award-winning producer of “Dear Evan Hansen,” “All The Way,” “The Color Purple” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” The excitement Caiola felt over her latest creation was evident as she named Freed one of her biggest inspirations.

“He was a visionary,” she said. “It’s truly a historical journey of Alan’s vision and passion.”

Attendees then had the chance to participate in a Q&A with the stars of the show, Campbell and Wendt. When asked to describe their characters, Wendt got right to the point.

“I’m mean,” he laughed.

A determined FBI agent is certainly a stark contrast from his beloved Cheers character Norm, but he’s up for the challenge. As for Campbell, he explained how although Freed is working toward the greater good, he does have his flaws like the rest of us.

“He has his blinders on. He does have failures,” Campbell said.

Still, he’s honored to play the role of someone with such social significance who believed rock and roll could be enjoyed by everyone, no matter their race.

“I’m looking forward to great music, history, comedy and tragedy. This is a real guy. It’s biographical. It combines a real person’s story with a joyful score,” Campbell said. “He had a vision for broader America.”

In addition to the inspirational story of Freed, audiences can enjoy a new score written by Gary Kupper, who understands firsthand the significance of 50s rock and roll. As a professional musician, Kupper had the pleasure of playing with many classic rock and blues acts including Chuck Berry, whom he toured the world with for more than 30 years. “Rock and Roll Man” is his second collaboration with Caiola, the first of which was “Freckleface Strawberry,” an off-Broadway hit.

With uptempo original numbers such as “Good Rockin’ Tonight” performed by a quartet and a high-energy cast, “Rock and Roll Man” may just be on its way to outshining “Guys and Dolls.” Starring alongside Campbell and Wendt are Bob Ari, William Louis Bailey, Whitney Bashor, Richard Crandle, John Dewey, Brian Mathis, Matthew Sean Morgan, Heather Parcells, Soara-Joye Ross, Melissa van der Schyff, Michael Siktberg and James Scheider. Quartet members are Early Clover, A.J. Davis, Jerome Jackson and Dr. Eric B. Turner.

Tickets to “Rock and Roll Man: The Alan Freed Story” range from $40 to $75. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available. For complete details and to purchase tickets, visit buckscountyplayhouse.org, call 215–862–2121, or visit the box office at 70 S. Main St., New Hope. “Rock and Roll Man: The Alan Freed Story” runs until Oct. 1. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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