'Down with the causeway!': Cape Breton Liberation Army returns in new musical

The Cape Breton Liberation Army is re-mobilizing in the form of a new stage musical that will run at the Highland Arts Theatre in Sydney, N.S., from March 22 to 30.

The production was inspired by the Old Trout Funnies comic series that author Paul (Moose) MacKinnon self-published in the 1970s.

The fictional army and its cast of generals got their start as a joke among a group of socially conscious friends, MacKinnon said Thursday.

"At the time, like that era, there was armies all over the world," he said. "The Palestine Liberation Army, the Symbionese Liberation Army.

"And somehow it just seemed logical that it became the Cape Breton Liberation Army, because Cape Bretoners are noted for their love of the island and sort of distrust of the mainland. So it was a natural fit."

Beware the budworm

The comic series took a gentle satirical poke at current events of the time, said MacKinnon. "For example, the second issue of the comic featured giant spruce budworms."

The Highland Arts Theatre's artistic director, Wesley Colford, was born well after the era of the CBLA but was exposed to the Old Trout Funnies through an exhibit of MacKinnon's work at Cape Breton University in 2015.

Inspired, Colford wrote The Return of the Cape Breton Liberation Army. "It's such a great example of Cape Breton's ability to take its own culture into its own hands."

While the production is set in 2017, it makes references to the CBLA's past cast of characters including General John Cabot Trail and Peyton the Barbarian.

Political satire

"I think what reflects with today's time is that dissatisfaction with government at so many levels," said Colford.
"So that idea of a grassroots level coming to take back control of our own destiny I think is very appealing to people of my generation in the same way that it was in the '70s.

"And it feels like there needs to be a revolution. I don't know what the answer is. I don't think it's blowing up the causeway. But I think the CBLA is a great metaphor to explore some of those ideas and really dig into what is possible and what we can do ourselves to try to make things better."

The production will see the entire 16-person cast singing, dancing and brawling, said Colford.

MacKinnon said, "I like the idea that it's somebody else taking the stand, taking up the cause, so to speak."