If you know who Joey Smallwood is and your blood boils at the very mention of the name, then No Change in the Weather is just the musical for you. If you don’t recognize the name of the former Newfoundland and Labrador premier and have never heard of the Churchill Falls hydro development, then the show will prove both entertaining and educational.
To sum it up, Smallwood served as premier between 1949 and 1972, during which time he made decisions regarding the Churchill Falls development that ultimately cost, and continues to cost, the province a lot of revenue.
No Change in the Weather is set in the fictional Newfoundland town of God’s Back Pocket at the wake of a family matriarch—an event that leads to the return of son James, the black sheep of the family who left home to work for Smallwood.
Mark Whelan, well known as “the Sleeman guy,” plays James’ brother Bill.
“I was the stay-at-home son, as it were,” explains Whelan. “So the oldest one took off for greener pastures some years previously, to work in politics in St. John’s and I was left to look after the family business—the father’s fishing business—take care of Mom and keep the homefires burning, as it were.”
But Bill wasn’t the only one impacted by James departure.
Kelly-Ann Evans, an award-winning performer, producer, director and music teacher, plays Faith, who is Bill’s best friend and who James left at the altar.
“Neither of us have seen him in many, many years, so it’s quite shocking when he returns to be with us on this evening,” Evans says.
As one can imagine, James’ presence raises the tension at the wake a fair bit, but Whelan explains that James is also there to try to set the record straight about Churchill Falls.
“That’s a big course of contention among us over the course of the evening, because that’s a development that’s kind of put us in a financial straitjacket over the last few years,” he says. “So he comes in and articulates the other side of the story.”
“That’s the neat thing about it,” adds Evans. “Throughout the course of the play, the audience does get to hear two different sides and two different opinions on where the family stands in terms of their understanding and acceptance of what happened with the Churchill Falls deal.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Newfoundland wake without a little music. No Change in the Weather is what Whelan describes as “a jukebox musical”—using traditional Newfoundland songs to tell the story. Bob Hallett of Great Big Sea is the show’s producer and did the musical arrangement with Paul Kinsman.
“Some of the songs are delivered very much in their traditional sense, with traditional instrumentation, and arrangements, and vocals, and then there’s a couple of them that have kind of been switched on their heads a little bit that you may not recognize,” Evans says.
The show’s one original song was written by Hallett’s former bandmate Alan Doyle.
“He wrote a beautiful song especially for this show—it’s called ‘Heavy Nets’—and we had the opportunity to kind of introduce that to Canada at the same time,” Whelan says. “It’s pretty wonderful.”
The show premiered this summer in St. John’s, where the cast also rehearsed, then went to Corner Brook, NL and into Ontario. It’s now come westward and Evans and Whelan look forward to performing it for an Edmonton audience, as they’ve already received some great reactions on the tour.
“We’ve had a lot of Newfoundlanders from away … that have come to see the show, so for them it’s an opportunity to have another nostalgic connection with the music, the accent, the people in Newfoundland,” Evans says. “But for those people from away, a lot of the comments after the show that people are taking away is, ‘Wow, I had no idea about the history or about the politics.’”
“The show does have lots of universal appeal,” Whelan says. “So you’re pretty well assured, not only will you be entertained, you’ll be educated as well in the process.”
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