At the Arts Club Granville Island Stage until August 2
Posted June 29, 2014
“Goodness, gracious/great balls of fire”. Nostalgia being what it is, Red Rock Diner will be a winner for the Arts Club. Director/choreographer Valerie Easton keeps the ensemble rockin’ and a-rollin’; the choreography leaves you out of breath just watching it. But honestly, I don’t remember life being that much fun back in the 50s.
And I was there. Yes, I rushed home from Point Grey – a junior highschool back in the day – to listen to Red Robinson on CKWX 1130. I was actually on his show to advertise “Point Potlatch, March 5th”, a fundraiser (I think) for the school. The music we listened to was just about to shift from “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” (my grandchildren can’t believe we listened to drivel like that) to “Rock Around The Clock”. Teenagers were just about to become a target for marketing – and to mistake their new status for freedom.
Written by Dean Regan in 1997, Red Rock Diner is less a musical than it is a musical revue. Twenty minutes into it, there’s still no plot. Red Robinson, played by Neil Minor, doesn’t age and his career doesn’t change; there’s no conflict, no resolution. There are no romantic entanglements although there appears to be the possibility. Robyn Wallis is a Marilyn Monroe-ish Venus in skintight capris and low cut top – what the “goodie-goodies” would have called a “cheapie” back then – while Anna Kuman is good-girl Connie in poodle skirt and cardigan. Given the setup, one almost expects an Archie, Reggie, Betty and Veronica situation. But no.
The whole show is a tribute to Red Robinson (played by Neil Minor) and the music of the time. But the script for Robinson is flat (“Love is grand. Divorce is ten grand” is about as interesting as it gets). And, as the central character, Robinson is not very charismatic so there’s not much to invest in. And it’s not talented Minor’s fault. The script is lackluster.
The singing and dancing, however, are terrific. And, if you’re over 70, you’ll know all the words. “Why Must I Be A Teenager In Love?” “Where The Boys Are.” “Let’s Go Little Darlin’”. “Who Wrote The Book Of Love?” And, of course, Elvis: “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog”, and much more.
You might even remember the moves to “Do the Hucklebuck” (“Wiggle like a snake/waddle like a duck/That’s what you do/ when you do the Hucklebuck”).
Act 2 is set on grad night, 1957 in King Edward High and a talent show hosted by Red Robinson. Minor, as Robinson, sings (as Robinson never did or not that I recall) and he does a dynamite job of “Rockin’ Robin”. And then there are more songs: “Stupid Cupid”, “Let’s Go To The Hop”, “Shaboom, Shaboom”.
The band – Mathew Baker (bass), Todd Biffard (drums), Jeff Gladstone (guitar), Steven Greenfield (keyboard) and especially Brett Ziegler (on sax) is hot. And individual performances are great: energetic, charismatic Zachary Stevenson who blew us all away with his Buddy in The Buddy Holly Story; Robyn Wallis and Anna Kuman as the two girls who, back in the 50s, wouldn’t have been caught dead in each other’s company; Colin Sheen as slightly nerdy soda jerk Johnny B; and Tafari Anthony making his Arts Club debut.
I was there for all that music. Perhaps it was that stuff that drove me to Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey.
Red Rock Diner needs a plot; the music alone just doesn’t provide enough glue. But try as I could I couldn’t stop the old body from moving and grooving to “Tequila” on the way out. Remember it? Ta-QUI-la. Now there was a tune.