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review

The cast of No Change in the Weather perform onstage.Chris LeDrew/Handout

  • No Change in the Weather
  • Director: Ruth Lawrence
  • Written by: Walter Schroeder and Bernardine Stapleton
  • Musical Director: Paul Kinsman
  • Venue: Seven Oaks Centre for the Performing Arts, Winnipeg
  • Year: Runs until Sept. 14th
  • Starring: Kelly-Ann Evans, Mark Whelan, Paul Rowe, Marquita Walsh, Calvin Powell, Brooke C. Adams, Keelan Purchase, Vicki Harnett, Olivia Heaney, Alex Abbott, and Robyn Huxter

Rating:

3.5 out of 4 stars

This well-sung Newfoundland jukebox musical, a political cautionary tale with former Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood as the anti-hero and (Hydro) Quebec as the villain, is a story within a story.

One plot focuses on the Churchill Falls hydro development debacle, which sees Newfoundland roundly fleeced for decades as a result of some catastrophic failures at a negotiating table, and the continuing political and economic fallout of these failures. These issues form the backdrop for the second narrative, about a charmingly dysfunctional Newfoundland family coming together one last time to honour its deceased matriarch’s final wishes by gathering at her house in the tiny hamlet of God’s Back Pocket, Newfoundland. After some initial exposition that feels a bit like a history lesson, these two stories combine with other tales into a heady family drama. But be careful – there may be ghosts about.

At first, this double storyline seemed a rather weak premise on which to hang a musical. Taking the time before curtain to read the 10 glossy pages of historical information in the program, although useful to understanding the drama onstage, eventually had my eyes glossing over. In the opening scenes, the family members argue about the HydroQuebec/Smallwood issue, seemingly having forgotten they’ve just lost their mom. But after this lengthy exposition set the scene, we finally had a song to break things up and the show reached new heights.

The cast’s singing featured the delicate phrasing needed for this material, with obvious attention to detail in its movement/choreography. The colourful timbres of the performers’ singing voices were matched by the rawness of the tin whistle, the fiddle and other traditional instruments. The uniqueness, unpredictability and tremendous variety of Newfoundland folk music was lovingly brought to life by the musicians and the musical arrangements. The band, overflowing with the best from Newfoundland’s vibrant music scene, was understated but brilliant, with effective and nuanced renderings of the music. However, I really missed seeing the musicians perform, as they were hidden in the wings. A show such as Come from Away and, more recently, Rainbow Stage’s Strike! both benefited enormously from having the musicians integrated into the stage action.

Trying to follow in the admittedly huge footsteps of Come From Away (which made it all the way to Broadway and then overseas, winning a Tony award on the way) is no easy task, but there is plenty of outstanding talent on display here. Producer/arranger Bob Hallett and musician Alan Doyle, former members of the iconic Newfoundland band Great Big Sea, give us original arrangements of traditional tunes, as well as new songs. One of the best original songs of the night was in fact Doyle’s Heavy Nets – its poignancy was well-paced and it was delivered with powerful anguish, the rising melody sweeping us along. The cast’s polished performances were enhanced by some exceptional zingers in the script and one highly entertaining plot twist. There was pure poetry to be found, albeit sometimes enmeshed in the political and financial jargon.

The show’s heartfelt last scene, with its semi-wordless embraces between characters, was a stroke of genius. All told, the intertwining of the two stories, one political and one familial, with some of the finest East Coast music artfully performed, reached my heart and stayed with me. The last fiddle tune, Black Duck Brook Jig, was still dancing in my head after I had left the theatre.

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