The much anticipated Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre production of the hit musical Fire was not as hot as expected. However, the play’s strong visuals and the dynamic portrayal of female lead character Molly King by actress Celine Stubel managed to bring some real warmth to the evening.
Fire follows the story of two brothers, Cale and Herchel Blackwell, who have a similar religious upbringing and yet follow completely divergent paths in life. Cale becomes a rock ’n’ roll star and then descends into a hell of drugs and addiction. His righteous brother Herchel becomes a famous televangelist, but is corrupted by his fame and pride all the same. Fire is billed as a “rock/gospel musical” but the songs do not work to advance the plot and are more like periodical interludes in the action.
The brothers are based on musician Jerry Lee Lewis and televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who were cousins in real life. The writers of the 1985 musical, Paul Ledoux and David Young, intended to highlight how the passionate and intense atmosphere of the Pentecostal church inspired the wild style of early rock ’n’ roll. However, this meaning seemed to be lost in Blue Bridge Theatre’s production and audience members will only make the connection if they read the small write up in the programme.
Zachary Stevenson plays the rock ’n’ roll piano player Cale Blackwell and he has certainly captured the outrageous knee-shaking, hip twisting, piano pounding, and chair-kicking performance style of Jerry Lee Lewis. However, he sometimes carries the over-the-top physicality into a territory which is more reminiscent of Jim Carrey in some of his goofier films, which takes quite a bit of believability away from the character.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jacob Richmond would have benefitted from a bit more confidence in his role as Herchel Blackwell, as he stumbled over more than a few lines causing the audience to struggle to suspend their disbelief. However, he had a few shining moments when he became passionate about a sermon and truly let the fire and brimstone rain down.
As Molly King, the Blackwell brother’s mutual childhood sweetheart, Celine Stubel was the glue that held the two together. She begins the play as a sweet and innocent young church-going teenager. Lead by her lust for adventure and her curiosity, she finds herself following Cale on tour and transforming into a seductress dancing on the edge of danger. After a painful fall from grace, she runs to Herchel for help and accepts God back into her life, becoming a wise and mature, strong yet compassionate woman. It can be a challenge to portray the many changes in a character over such a long span of her lifetime, and Stubel handled the role with grace.
The production also benefited from a beautiful set design by Patrick Du Wors, which included the soaring gables of a country church, a towering train trestle, a revolving white piano, and an enormous neon cross descending on wires from the ceiling. The costumes captured each era with flair and style, as the play spans several different years in the lives of the characters from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The production carries some thought-provoking messages about religion, politics, righteousness and Christian televangelism, which means that although the performance is lacking in its delivery and feels a bit too long, Fire will likely spark some hot debates within its audience. M
By Kelly Dunning
Aug. 10-13 at 8pm, Sun. Aug. 14 at 2pm at the McPherson Theatre.
Tickets $38-$50 at the McPherson box office, rmts.bc.ca. or by telephone 250-386-6121