SURREY — “I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen it, to be honest,” Red Robinson said of “Red Rock Diner,” the musical based on his early days in radio.
In 1957, Robinson was a high-school teen who found his voice as one of the first DJs in Vancouver to play rock ‘n’ roll records.
“Red Rock Diner” builds on that story through the ears and eyes of five fellow teenagers who dance to the sounds of “Great Balls of Fire,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Crying” and other hits of the era.
Back in 1998, the original production of the musical starred a young crooner named Michael Bublé when the show toured to Surrey Arts Centre and other theatres in the region.
“I remember him well in that original production, and he was great,” recalled Robinson, who answered the Now’s impromptu phone call on the second ring and was happy to chat about “Red Rock Diner” and related history.
“I went with the show to Toronto and the guy who played the Elvis-like character (Val) was Michael.”
Later, when Bruce Allen sought Robinson’s opinion about whether he should manage Bublé’s music career, the broadcaster was firm and convincing.
“So I’m in Bruce’s office and (producers) Paul Anka and David Foster are on a conference call,” Robinson recalled. “So I tell them, ‘When Bublé played ‘Red Rock Diner,’ all the girls at the stage door were yelling for Michael – like, does that tell you something?’ And at the other end of the phone, Anka says, ‘God, that brings back memories,’” Robinson said with a laugh. “I can’t take credit for Bruce signing him, but he did believe me that I thought this kid was a star. Bruce said it wasn’t his kind of music, but I told him it would be. He signed Michael (to an artist-management contract) and the rest is history.”
On a tour of 13 B.C. cities and towns this fall, the current Arts Club company production of “Red Rock Diner” hits Surrey Arts Centre’s main stage from Oct. 14 to 24.
Robinson is aiming to be at the Bear Creek Park theatre on opening night Wednesday (Oct. 14).
“I can’t get to them all,” Robinson explained, “and when I go, I don’t get paid for it, I just do it to kind of support the show, and people like to say hi.… You know, in my era of radio, I was a voice on the other end, and nowadays you’re lucky to hear a voice at all, because it’s turned into jukeboxes. Today they don’t allow (DJs) to be nutty and stupid like we were, which was fun. There is some personality left, but not much, not many.”
The musical was written by Dean Regan, who roamed the hallways of King Edward high school with Robinson in the mid-1950s.
“I hadn’t seen him in years but he said he wanted to write a musical about me and those days,” Robinson said of his mid-1990s conversation with Regan. “So he wrote it, and we talked many times about those days, what happened, all the stories.
“But yes, it’s flattering as hell and when I hear some of the corny lines I used, I turn red in places other than my hair,” he said with a hearty laugh. “But that’s just how it was, and you gotta do it accurately.”
The touring production of “Red Rock Diner,” directed and choreographed by Valerie Easton, stars Tafari Anthony, Mat Baker, Todd Biffard, Anna Kuman, Jesse Martyn, Scott Perrie, Sayer Roberts, Robyn Wallis, Daniel James White and Brett Ziegler.
For show times and tickets at Surrey Arts Centre, call 604-501-5566 or visit Tickets.Surrey.ca.