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Huey Lewis Says Broadway Show Has Helped Him Cope With Hearing Loss

‘The Heart of Rock and Roll’ is a feel-good musical set in the ’80s

spinner image Huey Lewis against pink ombre background
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Paul Aphisit)

Huey Lewis, 73, retired from singing in 2018 after suffering hearing loss from Ménière’s disease, a disorder that affects balance and hearing. But his memorable music has found a new voice in the feel-good Broadway musical comedy The Heart of Rock and Roll, opening April 22 at the James Earl Jones Theatre in New York City. Lewis says the new show is “a wonderful thing for me. It keeps me creative and it keeps me busy.” He shares with AARP his advice for others suffering from hearing loss, his favorite ’80s tunes and why he loves living in Montana.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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How did the Broadway musical come about?

My neighbor [from Lewis’ hometown of Ross, California] is a musical theater buff. We were having dinner and [my neighbor said to his son-in-law, film producer Tyler Mitchell], “Tyler, you should do a musical on Huey’s music.” Tyler said, “Wow, that’s a great idea. What do you think, Huey?” I said, “Well, the proof’s in the pudding, Tyler. Lots of people have approached me with the idea of doing a musical. It’s all about the [script].” And so he went away with his friend, John Abrams, and they wrote a first draft, which was really good. That was nine years ago. We’ve been working on it since.

Who are you bringing to opening night?

Jimmy Kimmel is going to come with me on opening night. He’s going to be my date. And we’ve got a lot of friends — some famous, some not so famous — but it’ll be a good night. And a lot of my band members are coming as well.

What do you miss most about the ’80s?

Well, I don’t miss the travel. I don’t even miss doing five, six shows a week. But I do miss the circus — the camaraderie of everything. And interestingly, that’s what I’m getting finally, now that I’m in New York and we’re here with a Broadway show.… [It’s] really collaborative, and that’s a wonderful feeling, to be part of something. That’s a thrill.

What’s your favorite ’80s song?

spinner image Mario Cipollina, Huey Lewis, Johnny Colla, Bill Gibson, Chris Hayes and Sean Hopper
Huey Lewis and the News had a run of hit singles during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Well, I like “Let’s Dance” a lot by David Bowie because I like Stevie Ray Vaughan [who played lead guitar on the song] a lot. And I like the producer, Nile Rodgers, and Bob Clearmountain mixed it. So [there are] a lot of the same people I work with on that record. And I also love “The Way It Is” [by] Bruce Hornsby [and the Range]. I think that’s a quintessential American song.

Your own singing has been put on hold due to hearing loss. How are you handling it?

Well, the answer is, as best I can. It was devastating for six months. Six years, two months ago I lost [hearing in] my left ear; I lost [hearing in] my right ear 35 years ago. And it was, frankly, devastating for me. I can’t sing, I can’t hear. I mean, I can sing to myself, but I can’t hear music; I can’t hear pitch. So I kind of laid in bed. And I tried [to restore my hearing through treatment at various medical institutions]. And I tried chiropractic [treatments] and acupuncture and cranial massage, [and eating an] all-organic diet and no salt — and nothing worked. I lost 20 pounds and I was very depressed. My son finally convinced me I had to get on with life. The [Broadway] show has helped me because it’s given me something to occupy me and keep me creative and so on, so that’s great. And I have to remind myself that there’s lots of people worse off.

What advice would you give to others facing hearing loss?

Consult a good audiologist, and unfortunately, learn to live with it. I have hearing aids now that I Bluetooth to my phone. And I may in fact be headed for a cochlear implant, which is not a pleasant thing, but it enables you to hear. Unfortunately, Ménière’s disease is not really a disease. It’s a syndrome based on symptoms, and nobody really knows anything about it. That’s especially problematic because people spring up with all kinds of theories and cures and so on, none of which are really good. It just is what it is. I’ve had a wonderful life. It’s just a small bump in the road.

Your road led you to leaving California for Montana. Why Montana?

spinner image Person holding a record album with words Huey Lewis and the News, Fore
The song “Hip to Be Square” from Huey Lewis and the News’ 1986 album “Fore!” is among the tunes featured in the new Broadway show.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Huey Lewis’ Chart-Topping Tunes

Huey Lewis and the News’ memorable ’80s music will be featured in the new Broadway show The Heart of Rock and Roll. Songs include:

  • “Do You Believe in Love”
  • “Hip to Be Square”
  • “If This Is It”

The group produced a whopping 21 songs that reached the Billboard Top 100. Three of their singles earned the No. 1 spot:

  • “Stuck With You”
  • “The Power of Love”
  • “Jacob’s Ladder”

Other popular songs by the group include:

  • “I Want a New Drug”
  • “Perfect World”
  • “I Know What I Like”

More cheese, less rats. And I love the outdoors. I’m a man for the outdoors. That’s my happy place, if you will. I fly-fish fanatically and ride horses and stuff like that.

What do you do to stay mentally sharp?

I read, and working on the show takes a bit of mental tuning. We’re constantly changing [the show] — there’s a million little things. [In the Netflix] documentary [about the making of the song] “We Are the World” [The Greatest Night in Pop], Quincy Jones, he’s got us all lined up there in the chorus. And he says, “Look, here’s what we’re building — a house. We’re going to start with the foundation and that’s the tracks, the rhythm tracks. And then we’re going to put up the walls and the sides, and then we’re going to put up the roof, and then we’re going to do the finish work.” Well, if building a house is a metaphor for making a record, then putting on a Broadway show is building a whole city. It’s a wonderful exercise, and it can be frustrating to be collaborative at times, but the people you’re collaborating with are smart, funny, talented, self-effacing and just a lot of fun to work with.

Who were you most excited to meet the night you recorded “We Are the World”?

I was so excited to meet Ray Charles. He was my hero. I couldn’t introduce myself to him — I was too nervous. I was a young up-and-comer, and there I am having to sing in front of Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen. Oh my gosh, it was nerve-racking, but I knew, and everybody else in that room knew, that this was the greatest evening of our professional lives. There will never be another night like this. That’s been true.


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