Stage West’s Red Rock Diner serves up healthy helping of nostalgia with a side of youth, heart and passion

Red Robinson’s roots go back to the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, but many people might not know that the popular DJ who brushed shoulders with the likes of Elvis and Buddy Holly was actually the first to spin the edgy genre on the Canadian airwaves. 

In fact, Robinson started spinning the hits on Vancouver’s CJOR while still in High School in 1954, before jumping over and making a name for himself on the Top 40 station CKWX in 1957 — and his influence was astounding.

So much so that all these years later there is a musical about his impact, brought to life by Stage West’s musical production Red Rock Diner.

Ben Cookson may not have been born yet, but he sure knows how to bring the famed DJ to life on stage. Cookson was asked to audition for the role of Robinson by director David Connelly, no only for his skill set but for his uncanny resemblance to the DJ, who only retired just last year.

Cookson revels playing the role, which varies from Act One to Act Two, with the first half mostly staged from a broadcast booth highlighting the pranks and voice Robison was known for, before switching to Robinson hosting a school talent show that also highlights his co-stars singing and dancing talents.

“It’s hard to choose a favourite part of the show because both acts are completely different,” he explains. “I love being that narrator in the beginning and I love being the MC because it’s something I did through schools growing up, so being able to do that on stage as Red Robinson is just awesome. And the harmonies are definitely my favourite part of show.”

Cookson may not have been born in the ‘50s, but the Ontario-born actor grew up listening to the likes of Elvis and Buddy through his parent’s good taste in music.

“The biggest thing I had to learn for the role was the physical operating of the disc jockey machine, but as far as the ’50s go, my parents raised me on all the classics and originals — but there was still a lot of stuff I wasn’t familiar with,” he says, adding The Monotones “(Who Wrote) The Book of Love is one in particular he wasn’t familiar with that the audience goes crazy for.

“But it’s pretty difficult not to have fun, especially when we look to see the audience having as much as we are having on stage. You see people singing along to these songs and it makes it all worthwhile.”

Cookson says while it’s great to see the audience taking a trip down memory lane, he believes you don’t have to be born in that era to enjoy the show. In fact, he himself prefers performing in a role set in a different decade.

“I think it’s such a treat to be able to teleport yourself back to an era your parents and grandparents talk about so much. People say it’s easy to insert yourself into an era you’re comfortable with, but it’s that much more fun to play yourself in an era you are not used to.”

The audiences, too, will enjoy the nostalgia.

“This isn’t just for people who grew up in the ’50s; it definitely has that nostalgia aspect, but it also has a lot of youth, heart and passion — especially for Red Robison. It’s the heart of rock and roll that we still see today in music.”

Red Rock Diner runs until Aug. 30 at Stage West before the 2018/19 season launches with And the World Goes ’Round on Sept. 7, 2018.