Five years ago the Newfoundland band, The Back Kitchen, broke up as the five members moved on to the next stages of their life. While most remained in Newfoundland, one ended up playing for the Symphony in Toronto and one died.
Indeed it is the death of this fifth band member, Kate (Tracey Power), that ultimately reunites the remaining four for a cross-Canada trip from Newfoundland to Vancouver to honour the memory of their dead friend and to play at her memorial service or as the Newfoundlanders prefer, her wake.
Problem is, the band doesn’t have a lot of money and no tour would be the same without Maggie (Sarah Donald) who had decided to “leave the rock” for T.O. those five years ago.
The cast of The Back Kitchen Release Party. Photo by David Cooper.
It is up to the band’s lead singer Ned (Trevor Devall) to reunite the band for this cross-country adventure. Problem is though, he and Gurinder (Sarah May Redmond) are the only two really into the challenge. Fellow band drummer, Seamus (Jonathan Teague), has never left his small corner of the world -a fact which we are reminded of many times as the band crosses Canada many times – and Maggie wants to simply leave the past behind.
Feeling a very strong need to honour Kate though, Maggie is finally convinced to do the tour, if not for the band, but simply in the memory of their dead friend.
There is much to like about The Back Kitchen Release Party. The music is lively and fun for the most part (as we think East Coast music should be) but it can also be very sweet, sentimental and touching.
Other than drummer Teague originally being from the Maritimes (we’re never told in the program exactly where that is), none of the players here are actually from Newfoundland. This is both a blessing and a curse. Sustaining a Newfie accent for the entire length of the show is an obvious challenge for most of the actors here although they can be forgiven to a certain extent as I suspect the audience may have not had such a good time had we been subjected to a heavy brogue.
Tracey Power as Kate is a definite standout with an incredible sweetness that translated so well to her role and boy can this girl sing! Sarah May Redmond plays the hilarious Gurinder with great passion and humility and Trevor Devall does a good job pulling it all together as the band’s leader.
I did find that the play had a very even tone throughout and it was a welcome relief when Devall and Donald finally have it out with each other which created one of the best scenes of the night. The very touching final scene comes across as genuine although I would have much preferred if the show had simply ended at this point.
Director Don Noble does a good job with the small stage and a “back kitchen” set that doesn’t change throughout the play even as the band moves across Canada. Lighting changes and some clever staging transitions the audience from life on and off the stage.
As we exited the theatre we wondered how this show might play to a Newfoundland audience especially since there are no real Newfies in the cast. We think they would be pleased. Playwright Trevor Devall manages to have fun with our brothers from the East Coast without making fun of them and more importantantly, tells a sweet, engaging story along the way.
This is definitely a rousing cross-Canada treat with heart.