Hockey paraphernalia lines the walls, with long-neck bottles of Molson, Canadian Club, and Clamato stacked in the bar.
Over at the side stage, a flute emits a familiar tune from a children’s TV show from long ago. It evokes images of Casey and Finnegan and the late Ernie Coombs, better known as Mr. Dressup.
At the tables are patrons discussing prominent Canadians throughout history: Terry Fox, Roberta Bondar, Pierre Trudeau, and Rick Hansen.
In what could be deemed a Canuck version of Cheers, this year’s Vernon Winter Carnival dinner theatre production, entitled Frank’s House of Opinions, will have audiences pondering our history, our politics, and what makes us, well, Canadian.
And there is certain to be those humming along to some rather well-known classics from the Canadian songbook.
Written and produced by Michael Poirier and directed by Doug Edgar, the play adheres to this year’s theme, Carnival Celebrates Canada’s 150th, and runs Feb. 8-11 at the Schubert Centre.
“When the theme came out, we pondered on what to do,” said Poirier, who has written, produced and directed a number of Carnival plays the past decade.
Poirier was struggling with having to encapsulate 150 years of history into a one-to-two hour show and says his first script was rather dark.
“I thought I would write a serious play and we had a reading. The director (Edgar) phoned me and said ‘no.’ The musical director (Julie Armitage) said it was a great play, but not a Carnival play… It would have been too hard for her to write the music for.”
So Poirier went back to the drawing board, and that’s where it hit him to set the play in a bar.
“I wish I could have had a rotating stage to show the different stages of Canadian history, but instead I have bar patrons talking about various topics, our people and history, and of course, hockey,” he said. “There’s not a huge (story) arc. It has interesting dialogue about our 150th and is set in a typical pub where everyone is comfortable with each other and so speak what’s on their minds.
“As Dave the construction worker, one of the characters in the play, says, ‘Opinions are like belly buttons. Everyone has one.’”
Since the Carnival play is typically a musical, the other challenge was how to incorporate tunes into the show and have them flow with the characters’ talking points. That’s when Poirier and Armitage came up with idea that the establishment be a karaoke bar.
“The music is still used as an extension of the text, but in this case, the characters get up to sing as if singing at a karaoke bar,” said Armitage, who researched popular Canadian karaoke tunes.
While Armitage wasn’t able to get every song she wanted, she managed to fit 15 tunes out of the normal eight or 10 in the play.
“I was thinking about most of the music I grew up listening to and most of it was Canadian music. I still have the original 45 of Anne Murray’s Snowbird,” said Armitage. “We also have some Shania Twain, The Guess Who, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Stompin’ Tom, April Wine…”
Unlike most karaoke bars, the singers will be accompanied by a live band. The band will also perform some other Canadian classics during the dinner portion of the show.
“We have a fun band with some new people involved. Connie and Gerhard Traxel on drums and guitar are back, and we also have Gus Hansen on guitar, Mark Nishihara on bass, and Ann Dorval on flute and percussion,” said Armitage.
Joining the cast are mostly Carnival theatre veterans Neil Morrison as Frank the bar owner, Paul Lawson as Dave the construction worker, John Lomas as university professor Kirby, and Betty Ann Northup as Clara, who is married to George, played by Gary Swift. New to the Carnival stage is Gary’s son Ethan Swift, who has acted in a number of productions at both W.L. Seaton Secondary as well as with Big Apple Productions in Vernon.
The Carnival dinner theatre production runs at the Schubert Centre (3505-30th Ave.) Feb. 8 -11. Doors open at 6 p.m. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m., with the performance at 7:30 p.m. Cash bar. Tickets are $49 (includes dinner) at the Winter Carnival office, 250-545-2236, www.vernonwintercarnival.com.