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Urgent! Urgent! Foreigner’s musical ‘Jukebox Hero’ set to premiere in Calgary

CALGARY — It really was “Feels Like The First Time” for Foreigner founder Mick Jones as he watched a rehearsal Wednesday for “Jukebox Hero” — the musical based on the songs of the iconic rock group.

But it was a familiar tune before the opening act that initially caught his attention.

“Did they slip in a Billy Joel song?” he asked with a chuckle while “Allentown” played softly through the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary.

“Jukebox Hero” tells the story of the hard-hit town of Blaydon, Pa., that is saved with the help of a famous local rock star who comes home to stage a benefit concert.

Jones said it is set in the Rust Belt where a lot of communities, once mighty producers of steel, are struggling and many young people are dreaming of a way out.

“I think that is the dream of any kid today in America. I think it’s reflective of the pain and the failure of the system,” Jones told The Canadian Press while he watched the rehearsal.

Jones didn’t pick the songs that were used in the musical and only took in a couple of days of auditions.

“I left thinking there was a hell of a lot of work to do and how would they be able to put it together, but it gave me an idea of how swiftly this was moving along,” he said.

“All of a sudden it’s real. You talk about it and then suddenly you’re looking at this and it’s like this is it.”

The narrator set up the dream of three young men hoping to be jukebox heroes.

“During a day the guys punched a clock in the steel mill but three nights a week they played music at the Rusty Mullet tavern and Mace brought his girlfriend Hillary into the mix, which is mistake No. 1 in the rock and roll playbook.”

That line caused Jones to laugh out loud.

“It’s like having a cat on a ship — that’s the classic situation from Yoko to all those bands who sort of failed,” he said.

A version of “Lowdown and Dirty” prompted Jones to applaud.

“I’m impressed really,” he said. “The sound is great, vocals are really, really good … excellent and I didn’t even know a thing about the monologue thing happening. It kind of sets it up nicely.

“JukeBox Hero” is to run for three days in Calgary, four in Edmonton and then five days in Toronto in February.

Jeff Parry, founder and CEO of Annerin Productions, said he’s cautiously hopeful about the ongoing success of the musical.

“It’s kind of like giving birth, right? You hope everything looks fine and you don’t really know until that baby comes out and we’ll be experiencing that Friday,” said Parry.

“After Toronto, we’re going on the road for a three-week tester tour — we’re going to Washington, Chicago, Atlanta and some Florida dates and that’ll tell the tale if this thing sells tickets and what people think.

“After that it’ll make or break itself.”

The screenplay is written by the prolific duo of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who are responsible for the movies “The Commitments'” and “Across the Universe.”

“The whole thing was coming up with a story that hung together. We needed a plot,” said Clement.

“There’s an element of the rock-and-roll dream and there’s the sibling rivalry between the two brothers. We hope it hangs together. I can’t wait to see it myself.”

Tracey Flye, who’s responsible for staging and choreography, said she has her fingers crossed.

“I think the biggest challenge is trying to deal with a product we’d never done before to get the story the way we would like it in a short period of time and to bring it to life in a way that feels authentic to the music and to the characters.”

About a dozen of the group’s songs will be in the musical, including “I Want To Know What Love Is,” “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” and “Hot Blooded.”

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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press