Review: The Needfire (Toronto)

The Royal Alexandra Theatre in downtown Toronto is home to the second incarnation of “The Needfire,” a Celtic blend of songs and stories that is designed to pull on the heart strings of the many expatriate maritimers, curious Ontarians, and nearby tourists that get their hands on a ticket. The mix of Irish dance, highland fling, Ottawa valley step dance, and some down home square sets will have your feet itching to glide across the floor as the numerous dancers make it all look and feel so natural. Comparisons to the watershed of “Riverdance” should be checked at the door, as this performance piece is grounded in the world of theatre and not simply a vehicle for music and dance.Joe Dincol plays Ben, a young wanderer who stumbles upon an eccentric fisher named John Michael, played by former-Papa Denny Doherty. The old man shares anecdotes hinged on Canada’s Celtic heritage while the young boy learns about the roots of community. The actual legend of the Needfire revolves around the transfer of flaming embers from a communal fire to the many personal fireplaces throughout the village. It is said to be a symbol of tradition, memory, continuity, and renewal…all important characteristics of growing up on the East Coast.

For starters, Mirvish productions has more than made up for the lack of lasers in Celtic Music over the last several hundred years. It was the theatrics that made this form of entertainment a very new experience and made me realize that different perspectives of Culture, that I may not be familiar with, can interpret and present the music of ‘home’ with several interesting twists. While I initially cringe at the disney-ified forms of kilted music (that could be better exemplified in the town halls, churches and community festivals throughout Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and PEI), I think that this show could potentially open people up to the source. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy myself. I just think I found the structure a little to rigid throughout and I am sure I was laughing at times when my blue haired neighbours were busy scratching their heads.

Musically, all the performers are top notch. It is a great showcase of some of the best talent we have to offer. From Con O’Brien, of the Irish Descendants, leading the crowd through “Barrett’s Privateers” and Mary Jane Lamond softly rendering “E Horo” to a captivated audience. Laura Smith gives it her all on “My Bonny” in a performance that will leave you weak in the knees and Sandy MacIntrye sets the tone with a traditional set of strathspeys and reels. Fine Newfoundland singer/songwriter Jim Fidler will surely win you over with the “Rhythm of the Goat” and John Allan Cameron will have you reaching for a refill before it starts “Getting Dark Again.” Slainte Mhath drive the “Jigs” and former world champion pipers The Campbell Brothers brings things to a climax with their duel chanters and drones.

The ingredients are all splendid…like fine cheese, fresh pasta, and rich cream. The problem with “The Needfire” comes in the presentation and packaging. We are given Kraft Dinner instead of a [insert your favourite Italian dish here]. Nothing wrong with Kraft Dinner, just with ticket prices ranging from $26.50 to $76.50, you will end up eating a pant load and not really be that satisfied.

With the show coming to a halt on February 12th, I am sure there will be many satisfied customers that will have curled up next to “The Needfire” and take off to that magical place down memory lane. I guess I just have the luxury of saying it ain’t nothing like the real thing. A multi-million dollar extravaganza like this would not fly at home, but is sure to be scooped up and appreciated by a much larger American market and palette.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Higher if you order music over the tv and lower if you have been to Glenco

Posted to Cape Breton Music Online


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