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Theatre Reviews Review: Foreigner-inspired musical Jukebox Hero is lacking in fun and charisma

Anesti Karantakis, left, and Geordie Brown in the lead role as Ryan Perry.

CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN/COURTESY ANNERIN THEATRICALS

  • Title: Jukebox Hero: The Musical
  • Music and lyrics by: Mick Jones/Foreigner
  • Written by: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais 
  • Director: Randy Johnson
  • Actors: Geordie Brown, David Michael Moote, David Young, Elena Juatco, Laura Tremblay, Sean Cullen, Cleopatra Williams, Daniel Williston
  • Company: Mick Jones, Phil Carson, Stewart Young, Jeff Parry, in association with Annerin Theatricals
  • Venue: Ed Mirvish Theatre
  • City: Toronto 
  • Year: Runs to Feb. 24

rating

Music aside, in its seventies and eighties prime the transatlantic rock band Foreigner was duller than the rest. A new musical, Jukebox Hero, honours that lack of lustre. Game as it may be, the show, which made its world premiere at Ed Mirvish Theatre on Thursday, was, as the band’s song The Damage is Done goes, “lacking in some ways.” Notably missing were a compelling narrative, pure fun, charismatic performances and characters worthy of our sympathy, rooting or even mild concern.

The production is a made-in-Canada one, albeit with an American director (Randy Johnson) and book written by two Brits (Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the veteran team behind the music-driven films The Commitments and Across The Universe). The musical was work-shopped in Calgary and Edmonton this summer.

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Unlike Jersey Boys or Ain’t Too Proud, which melodiously tell the stories of the Four Seasons and the Temptations, respectively, Jukebox Hero does not convey the history of Foreigner, a hit-making group of British and American journeymen fronted by singer Lou Gramm and led by songwriter-guitarist Mick Jones. The band is represented in the musical by a canon memorable to middle-aged nostalgists, with such radio-friendly rockers as Cold as Ice, Juke Box Hero and Feels Like the First Time butting up against the insanely earnest balladry of I Want to Know What Love Is and Waiting For a Girl Like You.

Cleopatra Williams plays Sharon Loomis.

CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN/COURTESY ANNERIN THEATRICALS

The narrative of Jukebox Hero – the musical takes a different spelling than the song – is independent of the band’s saga, but not altogether original. As with Kinky Boots, Billy Elliot and Sting’s The Last Ship (currently up and cruising at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre), the story involves a dying industry, in this case a Rust Belt steel mill scheduled to close. It is against this trope that a lukewarm drama involving a girl and two brothers (all in a fledgling bar band) unfolds. I suppose we can call it a love triangle, though it’s not nearly as exciting as an isosceles.

The young brothers are Ryan (played with some fire by a Nova Scotian, Geordie Brown) and Mace (a less Hot Blooded David Michael Moote). When the girl comes between them, Ryan splits town to become the titular rock-star, while the brooding Mace (whose musical theme is At War With the World) joins the military. They’re estranged from their unreliable father, whose character serves as the musical’s unreliable narrator.

More dependable are the comic turns of Seán Cullen (as a music-industry big-shot) and Daniel Williston (as a big-dreaming small-time promoter). Cullen’s Harvey Fischer cracks that the grubby little town he’s come across is “like Cleveland, but without the ambience.”

The early second-act appearance of two characters singing a relatively obscure song (the wistful, despairing Save Me, which references other Foreigner songs) comes out of nowhere.

CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN/COURTESY ANNERIN THEATRICALS

By and large, the singers in the cast are capable, but not up to the level expected in a major musical theatre market such as Toronto. And while Jukebox Hero is structurally sound, the early second-act appearance of two characters singing a relatively obscure song (the wistful, despairing Save Me, which references other Foreigner songs) came out of nowhere. The duo was not memorable from the first act, and didn’t show up again after the one (bland) tune together. Their brief appearance was as confusing and unwelcome as John Wilkes Booth at the Ford’s Theatre.

Adapting Foreigner’s songs to a storyline doesn’t always go smoothly. Cell-phone cameras linked to Double Vision? Despite its faults, however, Jukebox Hero entertains at a modest level, and Foreigner fans in particular will appreciate its effort and intentions.

Jukebox Hero plays at Ed Mirvish Theatre to Feb. 24 (mirvish.com).

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