Nice guy pop star Huey Lewis, the gravelly voiced baritone behind such hook-laden, power-pop anthems as "Hip to Be Square" and "I Want a New Drug," never seemed to fit in among the bands that dominated the pop music landscape during the 1980's. Although women swooned at the sight of his rugged good looks, he and his band, The News, always felt out of place next to their blow-dried MTV brethren with whom they shared screen time and chart space.
"We were anachronistic then and we're even more so now," says Lewis over the phone from his home near Hamilton, Montana. "We never really spent any time on our 'image,' and we were trying to write songs that were more timeless as opposed to trendy or hip."
His band's white boy soul-inflected sound may have flagged them as outsiders in a pop music world rife with big hair and eyeliner, but it's a role Lewis seems to relish. Perhaps that's why the spontaneous risk-taker inside of him chose an unlikely new challenge — headlining his first Broadway musical as Chicago's slick, razzle-and-dazzle-'em lawyer, Billy Flynn.
Flynn's patent-leather tap shoes won't be easy to fill. Jerry Orbach and James Naughton immortalized the rapacious rapscallion onstage, and Richard Gere flashed his toothy white grin in the Oscar-winning film. "It's a little bit scary, I have to admit," says Lewis. "It's definitely going to be a challenge. But I rather enjoy that at this late stage in my career. There've been plenty of Billy Flynns, and some of these guys are tough acts to follow. I hope I'll be able to lend a personality to it that's somewhat unique." Fortunately, Lewis is no stranger to the acting profession, with film credits that include a cameo in "Back to the Future," the blockbuster for which he wrote "Power of Love," Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" and "Duets," in which he and Gwyneth Paltrow scored an adult-contemporary hit with their cover of Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'." "I have learned things about acting from each of my films that will help with this stage role," says Lewis. "But I have to admit that the two things are different. Billy Flynn is a much broader, bigger-than-life character."
As for Huey Lewis and the News, the band performs more than 85 shows a year on the touring circuit, and they recently released a CD and companion DVD titled "Live at 25," which features new versions of many of their greatest hits. "We've slowly reinvented ourselves over the past ten years as more of a rhythm-and-blues, roots-rock band. We added a horn section and rearranged all of our old material to give it an R&B sheen."
After selling more than 20 million records (including the multi-platinum albums "Sports" and "Fore!"), Lewis cherishes the lower profile he now enjoys. With the kids off to college, he splits his time between Marin County, Calif., where he grew up, and Montana, but admits to finding himself up in Big Sky Country more often. "More cheese, less rats," he deadpans.