By Paul Ledoux and David Young Directed by Brian Richmond
Rock ’n’ roll is the bastard child of fundamentalist religion. In Fire, writers Paul Ledoux and David Young explore the hell-for-leather spirit of rock music and its roots in the evangelical Deep South. Developed at Thun-
der Bay’s Magnus Theatre, the musical is now playing at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre and will soon move to Ottawa and Edmonton. The playwrights have based their plot on the careers of such singers as Jerry Lee Lewis and the parallel rise of TV preachers, including Lewis’s cousin, Jimmy Lee Swaggart. The result is a thought-provoking drama that sizzles in Brian Richmond’s fervent production.
The heart of Fire is the performance of
the singer, Cale Blackwell (Ted Dykstra), renegade son of a Pentecostal minister in Razorback, Ark. From accompanying the hymns in his father’s church, Cale grows into a raunchy rock star. But even at the drug-drenched height of his fame, he retains a glum faith in God—and in his own damnation. In that manic role, Dykstra lights up the stage: his dexterity at the keyboard matches his quicksilver voice and smouldering energy.
Dykstra’s work is enhanced by a versatile supporting cast. As Molly King, the girl Cale wins by music and loses by bad behavior, Janet Land effortlessly portrays the transformation from bubbly teenager to trim matron. Molly eventually leaves Cale for his brother Herchel (cleverly played by Ron Lea), who gains wealth and power—but loses his soul—as a right-wing evangelist. In Herchel’s unctuous hands, “the sacred fire of the Holy Ghost” becomes the engulfing fire of a nuclear war from which the righteous expect to rise up in rapture. Fire's script has some weak spots, and much of the
second act resembles a family melodrama. But its crisp performances make for exhilarating theatre.
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