'No Change in the Weather'

A Newfoundland Musical at The CAA Theatre

Mirvish Site

Joe Szekeres

David Mirvish and Terra Bruce Productions have graciously transported the Rock to us at the CAA Theatre since it might pose a challenge for any of us to get to Newfoundland at this time.

Along with hopefully seeing the terrific ‘Come from Away’ again soon, this engrossing opening night production of ‘No Change in the Weather’ makes me long to return for another visit to the Rock as soon as I saw one cast member carry an ugly stick. I attended the show with a friend who has never ventured to the East Coast but seeing ‘No Change’ made them want to travel there as well.

There was a momentary hold of about ten minutes into the production for sound issues, but that didn’t bother me at all as I was happy to be back here away from a computer and television screen to watch artists showcasing their craft. A quick look around to gauge other audience members and, from what I could see, they weren’t bothered in the least either by this pause.

Here’s ‘No Change’s’ story from the Mirvish website, and yes it might seem puzzling at first: Peggy O’Brien (Kelly-Ann Evans) has died. Her family and friends sneak her corpse out of the funeral home (and tanning salon) and back across the water to her family home, on the unsettled island of God’s Back Pocket. As this brood of body snatchers wake Peggy into the light a wandering American (Philip Goodridge) and newly stationed Constable (Renée Strasfeld) from Quebec find themselves in the middle of a family racket that exposes decades of pettiness, secrets, and enough familial bad blood to ruin every Christmas for eternity. Estranged brothers Bill and James ‘Sonny Boy’ O’Brien (Steve Ross and Duff MacDonald), a child of unknown parentage (Melanie O’Brien), and a slide show of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most farcical political blunder, Churchill Falls, collide with an outcome that does manage to set things right.

I especially loved hearing the hypnotic sound effects of the wind and rain upon entering the CAA auditorium as I could vividly recall hearing that same sound, and feeling the mist and fog, when I was in St. John’s years ago. A wooden casket is spot lit centre stage with a floral garland wrapped around. The use of a scrim behind the boat magically creates a shadowy void of darkness as the group of body snatchers transports Peggy’s casket to her family home.

Director Brad Hodder in his Programme message writes this production is an “ensemble piece of theatre (as)…all of the characters are completely inter-related and completely necessary for the journey…each one is essential.” Couldn’t agree more here as Hodder’s sharp vision for this first-rate ensemble creates memorable and touching moments of the human spirit in Bernardine Stapleton’s story and Steve Cochrane’s adaptation.

In ‘Come from Away’, the opening line of that musical re-iterates audience members will probably only understand about half of what the Newfoundlander says and how it’s said. And that’s what makes listening to the dialect of the East Coast so charmingly enjoyable especially when it is simultaneously captured in the glorious vocal work of the actors.

Gorgeous sounding harmonies resonate and soar to the rafters of the CAA Theatre where I experienced goose pimples and just closed my eyes so I could listen to these dulcet toned singers. Attention must be paid (as Linda Loman states) to Musical Directors Kelly-Ann Evans and Josh Ward. Victoria Wells-Smith’s delightful choreography put a big ol’ smile on my face as it reminded of the full-fledged kitchen party I attended when I was in Newfoundland. The Band is in tip top fine form and never overpowered the singers. Thankfully, I could clearly hear the lyrics to each of the songs from where I sat.

As matriarch Peggy O’Brien, Kelly-Ann Evans becomes the ghostly spirit who poignantly recounts her family’s story with humane charisma combined with tinges of that east coast teasing and taunting that I always like to hear. One would assume that the matriarchal family figure would have aged appropriately; however, I don’t want to spoil the surprise as to why she is portrayed as young as she is.
Steve Ross and Duff MacDonald as estranged brothers Bill and ‘Sonny Boy’ (James) superbly nail that existing tension of fraternal opposites on account of the political mess in which Newfoundland found itself over Churchill Falls. Make sure you leave enough time before the show begins to read the excellent historical background in the Programme surrounding the debacle.

Vicki Harnett’s Sally Brown (sister to the brothers) becomes a riotous ‘doula of death’. I liked how Seana-Lee Wood as Jade, a friend to Bill and Sonny Boy and Peggy, mysteriously harbours a secret which is ultimately revealed in the second act. As the rather awkwardly dressed for a wake Liza, Melanie O’Brien scored points with me in how she engendered an awkward relationship the O’Brien family and with Jade.
Steve Maloney’s dimwitted Johnny reveals a past about himself and his relationship with Peggy that brought a tear to my eye. Wandering American Richard O’Byrne (Philip Goodridge) who only knew Peggy for a month before she passed away nicely captures and refines that ambiguous relationship he had with her.

Julia Dunne, Erin Mackey and Liam Eric Dawson become a ghostly trio of accomplices who strongly fortify the petty secrets and familial bad blood that exists here.

Final Comments: ‘No Change in the Weather’ becomes an authentic East Coast celebration of song, of dance, of laughter…and OF LIFE. I’m still thinking today as I write this article about the tremendous joy on the faces of these versatile artists and their kinetic energy that was transferred to me in the house.
Absolutely wonderful. A must see as we all emerge from the pandemic.

Running time: Approximately two hours and forty minutes with one intermission.

‘No Change in the Weather’ runs to November 27 at The CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.mirvish.com.

Covid 19 Protocols in effect at the theatre.

‘No Change in the Weather’ – a Newfoundland Musical
A terrabruce production
Original Concept and Music Curation by Walter Schroeder
Written by Bernardine Stapleton with Adaptation by Steve Cochrane.
Musical Arrangements by Jesse Grandmont with additional arrangements by Bob Hallett and Paul Kinsman
Directed by Brad Hodder
Musical Direction by Kelly-Ann Evans and Josh Ward
Choreography by Victoria Wells-Smith
Musicians: Alex Abbott, Chuck Bucket, Grant King, Kat McLevey, Kelly Russell, Tamsyn Russell, Josh Ward
Set Design: Gilliam Gallow, Lighting Design: Leigh Ann Vardy, Sound Design: Pat Dempsey, Costume Design: Sara Hodder, Dramaturgy: Courtney Brown, Stage Management: Jaimie Tait, Production Management: Brendan Agnew, Dialect Coaching: David Ferry and Melanie Paiement,
Executive Producer: Walter Schroeder
Creative Producer: Bob Hallett

Photo by Ritche Perez

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