It’s 2018. Picture a 1950s drive-in diner that’s seen better days, with a For Sale by Owner sign on its boarded-up windows, and half of its neon lights out or inoperable. Throw in a couple of diner booths, resplendent in red and white leather and chrome trim and you have the set for Cruisin’ Classics, now playing at the Huron Country Playhouse until July 7.
Onto this set appears The Man in the Diner (presumably Chuck the name on the drive-in’s facade), an older gentleman who starts talking about how school is out and how he hopes the kids who patronize his establishment will return. He says that he opened the diner in 1955, the same year his daughter was born. The one that married a musician — not even a real musician, a drummer — and left the diner behind. He tells the audience that he is waiting for a real estate agent to discuss the sale of the diner.
While cleaning up the diner’s facade, The Man in the Diner (played convincingly by Paul Lewis) begins reminiscing about what things were like back in the 1950s and early 1960s when Chuck’s was a-rocking.
Bursting onto the stage at that point is the production’s six talented featured vocalists with a collection of songs related to the theme of School’s Out, including Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock, At The Hop by Danny and the Juniors, and Brian Hyland’s Sealed With A Kiss.
It’s just the beginning of a whirlwind two hours of continuous music and nostalgia featuring poodle skirts, ponytails, rolled-up jeans, jiving and posturing.
The Man in the Diner plays the role of the narrator guiding the audience through the times, talking about the trials and tribulations of the kids who frequented his diner, while introducing the ten themes around which the numerous tunes are grouped.
The stellar six piece band, dressed in matching gold satin suits, is driven by drummer Ken Post who propels the production forward aided by the likes of Robert Martin, an accomplished reeds player who plays every sax solo you remember from this period’s music. Rounding out the band is guitarist Eric Mahar who provides some tasty licks, Rich Levesque on bass, Rob Asseltine on piano, and Rob Christian on keyboards. Madeline Champagne and Lloyd Lawrence provide background vocals.
But it’s the show’s six featured vocalists — Kyra Mastro, Connor Meek, Brooklyn Roebuck, Meghan Shanley, Joshua Warren and O’neil Watson — who are front and centre throughout the show that really bring the music alive.
Dressed in an apparent bottomless drawer of period costumes, the six young singers gyrate, dance and posture their way through the show’s fifty songs (yes you read that right, fifty), bringing each one to life.
Especially notable is Watson’s rendition of Sam Cooke’s You Send Me and Little Richard’s Good Golly Miss Molly. Roy Orbison’s Crying gets a great workout by Shanley and Warren. But, perhaps, the tunes in which all six vocalists are featured stand above the rest.
By show’s end, The Man in the Diner has decided to keep his drive-in open for another generation of kids, and the cast closes the show with a rousing rendition of Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.
To be sure, Cruisin’ Classics is everything one looks for in Summer theatre. It’s fun, not too challenging to the old noggin, nostalgic and brimming with talented singers and musicians.
Make sure you cruise down to see it before it moves on.
Rick Young, June 29, 2018