Redux of Red Rock Diner : this show jives
& jams & jollies you big time!
& jams & jollies you big time!
What follows is an edited re-issue of the original BLR review of July 8, 2014 for this show that is now on tour by ACT. Due to other theatre obligations, I won't be able to catch up with it. But as many of the actors and production crew are the same, I have little doubt the values that played out in the original directed then, as now, by Valerie Easton, are once again evident on the various boards where it's being re-staged with the current cast [as noted below]. Schedules at the bottom. \ WBB
Ed. note to readers : For a quick take on the show, read sections Here's what it's about, Cast highlights, & Who gonna like.
Here's what it's about : RRD is not a "play" but a rock-&-roll musical revue that by and large is an excellently-executed song-&-dance jive-jam of 50's rock-&-pop.
Local R-&-R d.j. giant Red Robinson is the hook in this reprise of the 1997 Dean Regan original creation. Robinson is the only d.j. on earth, we're told, to introduce to live audiences over the course of a decade or more each of Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Beatles. He put Vancouver on the rock map long before the largely-unknown backwater of YVR was discovered and bought out. Now you don't learn much about Red in RRD.* Mostly he's a bit of a wise-ass radio personality on CKWX linking together some 20 pop hits and another couple dozen song-snippets on the night.
But boy-oh-boy do you get energy and flashdance and great musical chops from RRD's performers as directed and choreographed by Valerie Easton and music'd by Steven Greenfield.
A bit of background on context : As a late WarGen kid growing up in the 50's USA midwest, I thought the music from that era aimed at us generally sucked. Not Sinatra and the Rat Pack group and their carryover of big band 40's sounds. No. But these, the likes of Bobby Vee. Bobby Vinton. Frankie Avalon. Ricky Nelson. Eddie Fisher. Pat Boone. To a person, to me, they were all Wonder Bread white. Hard to categorize any of their stuff as "rock-&-roll" I sniffed at the time.
There were exceptions. Some sourdough & rye with crust, no question. Elvis. And while "Jailhouse Rock" might have been a bit too raunchy for us northern Republican Baptists, his cover of Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" was choice. [I actually owned a pair of b.s.s. in Grade 8 in '58 along with saddle shoes and penny loafers.] Other notables : The Everly Brothers. Buddy Holly. Richie Valens. The Big Bopper. Bobby Darin. (Little Richard? A whack-o orbiting his own planet, we Milwaukee suburbanites thought.) But at least these people rocked and we rolled along joyously with them in the back of Dad's Ford convertible.
Some of the sketchier ballads from that time, i.m.o., included "Little Star" with its obnoxious & maudlin "There you arrrrrrreee, little starrrrr..."closing line. "Teenager in Love". "Venus" -- "Oh Veeeeenus, make my dreams come true!" [At least to that lyric we gyrated with our girlfriends in their flannel poodle skirts at the sock hop. Hope ever springs up.] But thin, v-e-r-y thin musically, this stuff.
No, it wasn't until Roy Orbison's iconic "Crying" and another, "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King in the Kennedy 60's that ballads for teen-age ears were at last evolving, we hoped, into a wee bit of nuance and substance, away from AM radio's cotton candy we'd been force-fed for years.
Well, whatever I might have thought about that music back then, I can tell you this : RRD turns those three songs I hated back in the day and makes them a delight to watch and hear as part of pop music's varied history from that time. And it ends, appropriately, with the Roy and Ben numbers to signal the next chapter of rock's emerging identity.
"Action" works in lieu of plot : In its two acts over two hours we first find young DJ Red [Jesse Martyn] spinning discs in the CKWX broadcast booth for his 7-Up sponsored Teen Canteen after-school show while the cast of high schoolers jive it up to the tunes he plays. Second act features Red doing a dance and talent show at King Ed High on Grad Night, 1957.
There is no fleshed-out story-line or narrative arc -- just 12 wizardly antic souls singing and strumming and tooting and dancing their hearts out.
RRD amounts to a serial review of songs from those times with verbal and visual Vancouver reference points thrown in casually, almost willy-nilly, such as a note about homes selling for $15,000 in Kitsilano that year or call-ins about a Robinson radio prank over whales allegedly beached at English Bay. Billboard ads flash above the set that feature the Vancouver Mounties and White Spot. '57 Fords and Buicks. Trev Deeley Harleys. Texaco Sky Chief Supreme. Doublemint.
To some, the lack of "what-ness" that stage plays usually provide may detract from the evening's success. Not to the majority, however. There's hollerin' and clappin' and cheerin' and stompin' and laughin' from the cheap seats up top to front row downstage centre and through all the rows between.
Cast highlights : This was first rate work by the troupe. But there were three primary standouts : as Johnny B, the Red Rock Diner soda jerk, Colin Sheen for me nearly stole the show single-handedly (double-foot-edly...?) with his dance and choreography and stage business moves. Faster more subtler feet in red sneaks I don't believe I have witnessed on a Vancouver stage in years. And the boy can sing, oh can he sing. His cut at Johnny Ray's "Cry" brought down the house. [Played by Sayer Roberts, 2015.]
Vying with Sheen for top dance moves (and an absolutely wild! hula hoop display) is Anna Kuman as Connie. She makes her crinolines bob-&-bounce with breathtaking speed and variety. And she can belt out tunes with gusto as well as croon sweetly with Robyn Wallis as Venus.
Zachary Stevenson is well-known to ACT audiences for his regular redux as Buddy Holly. He transports his signature leg-hop / knee-lift / guitar-banging stretch-out routine to his role here as Val, where he also adds some clever sax riffs to his customary 6-string prowess and big big voice. [Played by Daniel James White, 2015.]
Of the five instrumentalists, clearly Brett Ziegler on sax was the crowd favourite in his hefty but light animation throughout the night. He sings lustily and with good cheer, too. (And does a mean chime.) Overall, leader Steven Greenfield's hand-picked mates earn kudos for being truly a band, not just some accomplished players riffing.
Production values prominent : Ted Roberts' excellent set of checkerboard flooring, chrome red-stool and diner counter, Ward's Music storefront, and the twin two-storey perches for Red's d.j. booth plus a dress shoppe opposite were clever, as were the warm lighting and timely spots on stage.
Costume designer Darryl Milot captured to a thread the range of clothes sported back then from over-bright pedal-pushers to Fonzi leathers to Converse canvas.
Andrew Tugwell's sound design filled every corner of the house with richness and clarity.
But it is Valerie Easton's blocking, her customary choreographic excellence that captures the zeitgest so perfectly, her stage business such as Johnny B's chrome polishing and counter-cloth routines -- these are what make this revue sparkle in spite of its lite storyline.
Who gonna like : To be exposed to so many snatches and whole cuts of songs from both the ditzy stuff of the 50's as well as its full-on rock songs serves to remind WarGen's and Boomers how far we've traversed from the carefree kick-the-can Howdy Doody 1950's. When people leave this show they have no doubt why they came to see it. So if "Do the Hucklebuck" and "Chantilly Lace" and "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Wake Up Little Susie" compel you to shake your booty, this one's definitely for you.
* In recognition of his early promotion of the emerging phenomenon known as rock-&-roll, Red Robinson was the sole Canadian inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1995 along with a slew of Yanks.
Regrettably, I think, there's a bit of "brag factor" at work in Dean Regan's scripted lines for Red's character in RRD that detracts from the show just a smidgeon. E.g. to have met and emcee'd the likes of Elvis and Buddy Holly and the Beatles does not make them "friends" except in the most casual or flippant sense of the word possible. Bad descriptor used more than once. But that's a mere quibble aimed at creator Regan more than at the venerable and charming Red Robinson himself who was in the house Monday night.
As a member of the BC Entertainment Walk of Fame (outside the Orpheum), the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, and -- my favourite -- the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, Red Robinson has a pedigree that is huge and genuine : his contribution to the music and entertainment scene now spans some six decades here in Greater Vancouver. That's a Wow! factor well-earned indeed.
Update : Just yesterday, October 20, 2015, Red on his afternoon show on AM650 made an ironic and self-deprecating comparison between his recall of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" -vs- Harry Chapin's "Taxi". Most listeners would not even be aware of any but two songs of my main man the late great Harry : "WOLD" & "The Cat's In The Cradle". Huzza-buzza Big Red!!
Production : Script by Dean Regan. Director & Choreographer Valerie Easton. Musical Director Steven Greenfield. Set & Lighting Designer Ted Robers. Costume Designer Darryl Milot. Sound Designer Andrew Tugwell. Stage Manager Allison Spearin. Assistant Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes.
Performers : Tafari Anthony. Mat Baker. Todd Biffard. Steven Greenfield. Anna Kuman. Jesse Martyn. Scott Perrie. Sayer Robers. Robyn Wallis. Daniel James White. Brett Ziegler.
Venues, dates & phone ticket office contact numbers :
Surrey Arts Centre, October 14-24, 604.501.5566
Clarke Theatre, Mission, October 25, 1.877.299.1644
Evergreen Cultural Centre, Coquitlam, October 27 - November 1, 604.927.6555
Kay Meek Centre, West Vancouver, November 2-3, 604.981.6335
The BlueShore @ Cap, North Vancouver, November 4th, 604.990.7810
Chilliwack Cultural Centre, November 6th, 604.391.7469
The ACTS Art Centre, Maple Ridge, November 7th, 604.476.2782
Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Burnaby, November 9-10, 604.205.3000
Kelowna Community Theatre, November 12th, 1.877.299.1644
Key City Theatre, Cranbrook, November 14th, 250.426.7006
Capitol Theatre, Nelson, November 17th, 250.352.6363
Cowichan Performing Arts Centre, Duncan, November 20th, 250.748.7529
Sid Williams Theatre, Courtenay, November 21-22, 250.338.2430, ext. 1