Red Rock Diner brings the tunes to Vancouver

Energetic production returns to Granville Island Stage to cap off Arts Clubs 50th season.

By Samantha Thompson
[deputy editor]

The cast of Red Rock Diner. Photo by Emily Cooper, courtesy of the Arts Club.

The cast of Red Rock Diner.
(Photo by Emily Cooper, courtesy of the Arts Club.)

Nostalgia for a different time will wash over you during the Arts Club’s production of Red Rock Diner. Set in Vancouver in 1957, the show is a callback to everything that was great about the era: the upbeat doo wop and rock ‘n’ roll classic tunes, pogo sticks, and soda shops. For Vancouver, the 1950s were also when the city was introduced to their local disc jockey darling, Red Robinson—one of the first DJs in Canada to play the likes of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. The musical is inspired by his time as a DJ, specifically at radio station CKWX (which is now known on-air as News1130).

The musical was written by playwright Dean Regan, who attended high school with Red Robinson, and the production opened in 1997 at the Granville Island Stage with Michael Bublé as part of the cast. Regan also wrote A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline and The Black and Gold Revue.

Red Rock Diner takes place over one day, during which time Red Robinson hosts his radio show (Act I) and emcees a high school prom (Act II). It is part jukebox musical and part musical revue, as the whole production a performance packed with songs, and very little dialogue. In spite of this, the time will fly by and soon you’ll find yourself in a standing ovation, feeling so much like you’re at a concert instead of at the theatre, that you’re half-expecting the cast to return for an encore.

Lovers of Vancouver history will be rewarded with a set calling back to a different time: old advertisements flash up on a screen above the stage, and the characters travel to iconic city storefronts, but you will learn nothing about Red Robinson’s career from this play (unlike those with similar career-telling premises, like Buddy Holly) other than that he had a flair for theatrics. It is easier to think of the production as an “Ode to Red and the ‘50s,” because under that title it does a solid job.

The Arts Club chose well with its casting for a production that relies so heavily on vocal and musical talent. After all, with a song list covering everything from “Rockin’ Robin” and “Hound Dog” to “Tutti Frutti” and “Ready Teddy”, the team needs to have quite the diversity in vocal range and acting ability, which they succeed at. Each performer carries enormous charisma, but it is the charm and inspiring vocal talents of Arts Club newbie Tafari Anthony will keep you captivated for the duration of the 130-minute runtime.

To cap it off, a live band that is clearly passionate about their music backs the strong singers. Brett Ziegler on saxophone, in particular, deservedly steals the spotlight with his vibrant solos and backing: by the time one of his solos ends you’re already counting the seconds until the next.

The ensemble carries the audience through the songs effortlessly, and their energy is so contagious that audience members are tempted (and, to a certain degree, encouraged) to sing along. Act II is heavy with audience participation, including a round of musical chairs—definitely a daring way to break the fourth wall of theatre—and it is at that moment that you’ll realize you’re at a production unlike anything the Arts Club has done in recent years. Really, the show can simply be described as well choreographed fun.

You’ll walk away with the reminder that a lot of solid musical numbers came out of the ‘50s, and above all else, Red Rock Diner is an ode to Vancouver with a heavy dose of nostalgia—a very fitting way for the Arts Club to end off a solid 50th season.

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