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Fringe Review: Sparks Street Ballad: A Canadian Tale of D’Arcy McGee

By Barbara Popel on June 17, 2017

Photo by Patrycja Maksalon

Photo by Patrycja Maksalon

Sparks Street Ballad: A Canadian Tale of D’Arcy McGee
by Cynthia Sugars
Fiddleheads Musical Theatre

75 min / Drama, Family / G

Why have I not heard of – and heard – Fiddleheads Musical Theatre before? Fiddleheads began life in 2011. The young artists (ages 5 to 18) sing, step dance, act and fiddle. And boy, do they fiddle! They create full-length musical performances too. Sparks Street Ballad: A Canadian Tale of Thomas D’Arcy McGee is their third production.

It was a treat to watch this at the Fringe. They had a sell-out crowd at their last performance. The toe-tapping fiddle tunes, including ‘Red River Jig,’ ‘Log Driver’s Waltz’ and ‘Miss Lyall’s Stathspey’ had the audience and this reviewer clapping along. The fiddlers were ably assisted by an on-stage three-person (adult) band.

The troupe offers much more than fiddle playing. The script elaborates on the last days of Father of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee. He lived in Mrs. Trotter’s boarding house on Sparks Street while a Member of Parliament. He was assassinated on her front doorstep.

Cynthia Sugars, who wrote and directed the play, has added the fiction that the boarding house was also the location of a “fiddle circle” where a boisterous group of kids met to practice the fiddle under Mrs. Trotter’s tutelage. In the play, McGee initially dislikes all the noise, but soon comes to enjoy the music making. He takes a couple of illiterate young Irish servants under his wing, teaching them to read. And one of the fiddlers, a Metis girl from the Prairies, causes him to change his mind about aboriginals and their spiritual beliefs.

Several of the cast impressed me. Paige Roy was amusing as Mrs. Trotter’s bossy daughter, Grace. Neve Sugars-Keen was spunky as the Irish maid, Norah. But my favourite was Ry Prior, who played the love-smitten Polish lad, Boris, with great stage presence. Boris is head over heels in love with Norah. The schtick the author gave him – Boris keeps giving Norah a small gift then reciting a love poem to her from a scrap of paper – consistently raised laughs in the audience.

Kudos to the adults behind the scene. The costuming was terrific, right down to the footwear. John Moss built a clever “violin wall” to hold the violins when they weren’t being played. This meant they didn’t need to be tuned before each piece. When rotated, the wall doubled as a projection screen, which was used very effectively for the servants’ reading lessons and McGee’s poetry.

Is Sparks Street Ballad a perfect performance? No, it isn’t. The kids don’t smile when fiddling, some of them have trouble projecting their lines beyond the stage, and the script idealizes the Canadian inclusiveness myth. But their theatrical polish, the fine production values, and, of course, their delightful fiddling, make this a very enjoyable addition to the Fringe.

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