Subtitled A Rags to Riches Celebration of the American Dream in Classic Rhythm & Blues, From My Hometown wants to be two shows at once—a story musical and an oldies revue. The book consists of a series of dorky clichés interspersed with original tunes that seem pallid next to hits by folks like James Brown and Otis Redding. But the crowd-pleasers get short shrift, often truncated into medleys punched out by Rodney Hicks, André Garner, and Kevin R. Free. These three portray Philly, Detroit, and Memphis, singers (named after their hometowns and musical roots) bent on making it at the Apollo and becoming big 1980s stars. Just when they’ve hooked their listeners with a hand-clapping, toe-tapping number like “Chain Gang” or “Cool Jerk,” they lapse into lame dialogue or break out into one of the new songs written to advance the plot. At its best, Hometown serves up the classics in style: Garner sobbing “Lonely Teardrops”; Free crooning “Dock of the Bay”; Hicks pleading, “Give Me Just a Little More Time.” If they could just forget the “story” and deliver up that old r&b, these guys could make the house rock. Too bad they don’t get more of a chance.

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