Taken together, some of the most memorable songs to come out of Newfoundland can tell the not-always-happy story of Canada’s most easterly, and newest, province.
No Change in the Weather fuses the likes of Sonny’s Dream by Ron Hynes with the follies of Joey Smallwood into an entertaining musical theatre package that’s earned raves on the Rock, and now makes its way to the rest of the country. It’s first stop off-island is Kitchener’s Centre In The Square August 23-24.
Set in the fictional rural Newfoundland town, the events of No Change in the Weather take place over one night at a wake, the impetus for much discussion, reflection and revelry. While it’s a work of fiction, the musical draws on factual history.
“Everything that happens in the play is true,” says Great Big Sea’s Bob Hallett, the show’s producer and co-musical arranger.
“But this is not a history lesson, it’s a really entertaining story.”
Much like Fiddler on the Roof has the history of the diaspora as its foundation, No Change in the Weather tells a story against the backdrop of Newfoundland’s history.
The idea started with the music – its “energy, power and pathos” – and the story grew around it, much like jukebox musicals such as Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia, Hallett notes.
“We thought ‘how can we tell what happened to Newfoundland?’ The best way to tell a story is to make it entertaining,” he said.
“Newfoundland is about the past and the present intermingling. The history is where the show begins and ends.”
Starting with a collection of some 30 beloved songs – the likes of Aunt Martha’s Sheep written by Ellis Coles and No Change in Me by Murray McLauchlan – the challenge in the play’s early days was to connect the music and the politics. Through it all, the music remained paramount, said Hallett, who also consulted on the music of another Newfoundland-based hit, Come from Away.
“I knew the music, and it’s good. You have to have that. That’s really job-one in musical theatre: good songs.”
No Change in the Weather takes some of the finest Newfoundland songs, and combines them with traditional sounds and instruments, memorable characters, and a conclusion that looks to turn the province’s past on its head, a past Hallett notes is somehow always present, perhaps not surprising given that there are still people who remember when Newfoundland was independent before joining Confederation in 1949.
The show takes place in God’s Back Pocket, where family and friends have gathered together on a wet and foggy night for the wake of their beloved matriarch. It’s a time to revisit their past, settle old scores, and try to find a way home again. The family is divided by the history of Newfoundland and the troubles which have beset the province for decades.
The troubles include the legacy of Joey Smallwood, the last father of Confederation, the still-controversial hydro-electric deals with Quebec and the collapse of the fisheries, among others.
Newfoundland and Labrador has no shortage of stories, says Hallett. In developing the new musical, the trick was to “connect the dots” between the songs and the history.
“I love the challenge. With Great Big Sea, we often put ourselves through a similar challenge like, ‘Let’s write a song about World War Two,’” he said of starting with an idea and turning it into a finished product.
In this case, the finished product is an acclaimed musical that has its sights set on Broadway down the road.
“We really believe in the show, and we have great ambitions for it.
“Our long-term goal is to get this show on Broadway next year,” said Hallett. “This show – the music, script, lights, staging, everything – is the most ambitious theatre production to come out of Newfoundland.”
The musical also has pride of place going for it, with all of the cast and musicians being Newfoundlanders.
“We’ve got some real topnotch talent,” he said.
With the show now on the road, Hallett said he’s interested to see how some of the lines may resonate with Newfoundlanders more so than with people in the rest of Canada, and vice-versa.
The Terra Bruce Production of No Change in the Weather takes to the stage at the Centre In The Square August 23-24. Tickets and more information are available online at www.nochangeintheweather.com or by calling the box office at (519) 578-1570 or 1(800) 265-8977.