THE BACK KITCHEN RELEASE PARTY
A few years ago my wife and I took a trip to Newfoundland and it was a revelation: beautiful and rugged with friendly, funny people and great music. Yup, a lot of the clichés turned out to be true—not the dumb Newfie clichés, but all the positive ones. So I was sure I’d be a sucker for The Back Kitchen Release Party, directed at the Arts Club by Don Noble.
A musical revue, the show is built around the premise that four friends from St. John’s are going to reunite their old band, The Back Kitchen, and gig their way across Canada to Vancouver, where they’ll play at the wake of a dead band member. On their way they’ll pick up Maggie (Sarah Donald), the band’s former fiddler, who has moved to Toronto to play violin in the symphony orchestra.
Their leader, lead singer and guitarist Neil (Trevor Devall, who wrote the script) cajoles and bullies the others: Maggie, who is reluctant to go, the big percussionist Seamus (Jonathon Teague), accordionist Gurinder (Sarah May Redmond), and the second guitarist (Tracey Power). The plot turns out to be pretty thin—the norm for musical revues. And the characters tread very close to cliché, especially obnoxious Neil, none too bright Seamus, and South-Asian wannabe Gurinder.
When this show cooks it’s on account of the music. The repertoire definitely has a Newfoundland flavour, opening with a song about a fishing boat that can’t stay afloat and grabbing the audience with a traditional reel highlighted by Donald’s fiddling. At one point the band regales a Star Trek convention with a song about a Newfie b’y in space who discovers that “There ain’t no screech on Venus/And there’s no salt cod on Mars.” The show does offer some musical variety. Redmond plays and sings an amusing traditional Québecois folk song, “Le Rap a Ti-Petang,” and the full cast does a beautiful a cappella version of part of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.”
Kudos to Alison Jenkins for her musical direction and arrangements, especially the vocal harmonies on nearly every song. I very much enjoyed the music, even if I didn’t find the characters or their stories particularly inspiring. I wouldn’t say it’s the next best thing to going to Newfoundland, but if you listen very hard you can hear echoes of one of the most fascinating places on this continent.