A Newfoundland wake is, in some ways, a microcosm of the province's traditional culture: laughter amidst the tears, humour to get through dark times, and lots of singing (and yelling, and drinking) among family and friends.
It's that humour that Newfoundlanders maintain even when talking about dark times that musician Bob Hallett hopes audiences take away from No Change in the Weather, a new musical he is producing — and taking on tour across Canada after a summer run at LSPU Hall in St. John's.
"This is what we love about Newfoundland music, the way the dark and the light are brought together all the time," Hallett said.
No Change in the Weather tells the stories of the people who have come together in God's Back Pocket, a fictional rural Newfoundland town, for a wake, Hallett and Berni Stapleton, the show's playwright, told The St. John's Morning Show.
It also uses reimagined versions of Newfoundland songs to tackle some of the hard parts of the province's story right now, including the financial situation and the uncertain fate of many rural communities. People who follow the news of those current events will get a kick out of the musical's message, Stapleton said.
"I think it's definitely going to be a cause for talk," she said.
Hallett hopes she's right, and that the show's ambition bleeds beyond the theatre walls.
"Change in Newfoundland is always led by the artists, and we're looking to make a big noise."
With Broadway in mind
Part of that effort to make a big noise comes in staging an ambitious production, and Hallett says No Change in the Weather fits the bill.
"We built this for the long term," he said of the show.
"Our goal here was to get this to Broadway, so we created a show with that scale and that ambition."
The production is funded by philanthropist Walter Schroeder, who wanted to do a Newfoundland show, Hallett said. Work on the production has been happening for a few years, and after four weeks in St. John's and a show in Corner Brook, the production will hit several Canadian cities, including Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto.
"Taking this show across the country is going to be one of the most unique experiences ever," said Stapleton of the jukebox musical, which weaves its story around the new interpretations and arrangements of beloved Newfoundland songs like Sonny's Dream and Aunt Martha's Sheep.
Musical theatre makes up a significant part of Hallett's work now, and he said it's where a lot of exciting things are happening. He plans for No Change in the Weather to soon be part of that in a big way.
"There's a lot of complaints about Come From Away, that we saw it here last," Hallett said of another famous Newfoundland-set musical, for which he worked as a musical consultant.
"Well this time, you're going to get to see it first."
No Change in the Weather plays in St. John's at LSPU Hall from July 10 to Aug. 3, and at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre from August 15-17, before touring across Canada.