For a few brief moments in March, a vacant distillery plant in downtown Toronto sprang to life with fiddlers, an open fire around a peat hearth and a spirited group of Celtic dancers.
On the spot where the city's Irish immigrant community first put down roots in 1832, producer David Mirvish announced a new C$3 million musical theatre production intended to showcase Canada's Celtic roots and traditions.
Titled Needfire, the show with book by Tom Lackey and additional music by Rick Fox, will run from June 12 to July 12 at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre.
At the press conference, attended by singer John McDermott, Needfire's director/choreographer Kelly Robinson addressed questions about the timing of the show, which runs in tandem with a return engagement of Riverdance at Toronto's Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts.
"We began working on the project not to capitalize on Riverdance, but because people kept coming to me, asking us to showcase our own roots," Robinson explained. "Initially David (Mirvish) and I watched the explosion of Celtic music with interest, but didn't see it for our theatres." It was only when he and Mirvish began exploring the rich wealth of Celtic tradition in Canada, that they decided there was room for more.
And Needfire will differ from other shows of its kind by building a storyline, rather than featuring unconnected musical acts, and by employing a theatrical framework that Robinson hopes will emotionally engage an audience. The story will revolve around an ancient ritual called the Needfire, which was the fire from which all of a settlement's hearths were lit.
Denny Doherty of Mamas and Papas fame and a native Nova Scotian, will play John Michael, a man on a journey of self-discovery around whom the action of Needfire revolves.
The production features an all-Canadian cast of 60, drawn from the Ottawa Valley, Cape Breton and Newfoundland, all communities with distinct Celtic cultures of their own. John McDermott, Gaelic songstress Mary Jan Lamond, John Allan Cameron and the Juno award-winning Irish Descendants, will join a host of newcomers, including 12-year-old fiddling sensation, Jeffrey Gosse.
Needfire plays at the Princess of Wales Theatre from June 12 to July. For tickets call: 1-800 461-3333.
By Mira Friedlander