It would be fair to say that the world needs a kitchen party.
That’s what they call it around Halifax, where someone shows up with a violin, someone else shows up with a bottle of screech, someone else starts banging a backbeat using a few tablespoons and a can of beans, and musical magic ensues.
It is in this state of mind that the young and talented quintet of creators of Alberta Cooking Party aim for the world premiere of Alberta Theater Projects at the Martha Cohen Theatre: a joyful jam session, and for the most part, that’s what they give us.
It’s a good feeling for the world moment.
In a world flooded with bad news, people need something to remind us of our common humanity, and what better way to do that than through live music? Alberta Cooking Party offers both new material written by the performers and also pays homage to true Canadian classics, including moving versions of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and Alanis Morrisette’s “Hand in My Pocket”.
Jeremy Carver-James sets the table, with “Coming Home,” a solo while grabbing a duffel bag on the way back to Alberta that’s part Paul Brandt and part “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Carver-James has a spectacular set of pipes, so it’s a seamless transition from the gate to a house in Varsity, where old theater pal Daniel (Fong) has assembled a band that includes Alixandra Cowman, Anna Dalgleish, Kodie Rollan – and Joe Slabe, a pianist three decades his senior, drinking a glass of red, and not like everyone else on stage.
But it is okay.
The twist at Alberta Cooking Party does it explore the personal stories of the cast members, who share their journeys, trials and tribulations in song and storytelling.
In this way, it’s kind of an Alberta version of chorus line, who drew the anonymous faces from the back row to center stage and shared their stories with the crowd.
To tell you the truth, it’s a bit difficult to listen to musical theater actors tell stories, because musical theater actors are people whose gift is to sing their feelings, not to express them.
That’s why they became musical theater actors in the first place! To skip the dialogue and go straight to the ballad of redeeming power!
This is true for the characters of Alberta Cooking Party, who stop singing in a playful but not very entertaining way to share stories that don’t really add up to much.
There are failed middle school auditions (Fong, who demonstrates he’s recovered from that blow quite well), the voice changes trying to get into the boys’ choir (Carver-James), being stuck in the administration when all he really wants to do is sing (Rollan, who you’re rooting for), have a dreary day job – for a week – (Dalgleish, trying to get a week stuck in a day job seems traumatic. A week.).
Let’s just say these stories have you looking forward to one of these talented young performers breaking into songwriting, and that doesn’t hurt when it comes to a Canadian classic like “Life is a Highway.” by Tom Cochrane, when Alberta Cooking Party really finds its top speed.
The truth is, when you’re a musical actor in Canada, life is full of highways, as actors travel across this huge country, going from gig to gig, where they don’t make enough money, but what they don’t have in their pocket they make up for with memories.
Yes Alberta Cooking Party leaves us with memories, they will be of what it was like to be young, talented, full of hope and songs – and stories like that.