The Needfire

On a cold winter night in Toronto there was no better place to be than at the Royal Alexandra Theatre watching The Needfire, a presentation of the Celtic traditions of Canada’s east coast. It’s the story of a young wanderer named Ben, played by Joe Dinicol, who seeks shelter on a cold, rainy night and stumbles into the house of John Michael, played by Denny Doherty. Doherty, the former lead singer of the Mamas and the Papas, now plays the harbourmaster on the popular children’s show Theodore Tugboat.

Because it’s the eve of the Needfire, Ben must first tell his own story if he wants to light a fire and warm himself, says John Michael. The old man recounts the Needfire story. On a certain day each year in the old country, all the fires would be extinguished. Then one person would light a new flame – the Needfire – around which everyone would gather and tell stories. This fire represents the tradition, continuity, community and renewal of the Celtic people, who would then bring embers from this fire to kindle their own at home. The fire still burns today, kept alight through the songs, dances and stories of the Celtic descendants.

Ben is cynical at first and fuses to join in the tradition. However, after witnessing these songs, dances and stories, he discovers his roots and is inspired to tell his own story, thereby literally and figuratively lighting his own fire.

The plot is not overly compelling, but it doesn’t have to be. The Needfire’s highlights are, of course, the dance and song numbers. The Irish reels and Scottish highland dances are so well choreographed and lively, you’ll find yourself tapping your feet in rhythm with the dancers. The Irish Descendants, a Newfoundland band, lead the musical acts and put in a very strong showing, capped off by a rousing rendition of Barrett’s Privateers.

As well, soloists sing haunting songs of the past, fiddlers abound and a wide variety of musicians playing traditional Celtic instruments pour on the entertainment. Veteran Maritime entertainer John Allan Cameron makes a cameo appearance and the Campbell Brothers blow everyone away with their bagpipe tour de force near the end of the show.

It’s a vigorous, energetic show that won’t leave you disappointed.

The Needfire runs until Feb. 12, 2000 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. For tickets, call (416) 872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333