East Coast Kitchen Party

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

East Coast Kitchen Party — A Hootenanny on Stage

Is the East Coast Kitchen Party a play? No. If you were less than generous, could you say the “kitchen party” theme is a bit of a stretch to give the production a justification to be at the theatre? Sure. But is the Kitchen Party a rollicking good time? Absolutely. And, ultimately, the question as to whether it’s a theatre production or just a heck of a good time doesn’t really matter as the Grand Theatre closes its 2022-23 season.

The show, in a nutshell, is a celebration of east coast music performed by four incredibly talented singers/multi-instrumentalists: Karen Lizotte, Celia Owen, Malia Rogers, and Ian Sherwood. The show is set in what’s intended to represent an east coast kitchen — complete with the sink. Buoys hang in the air, instruments hang from every wall, and audience members dot the stage, ostensibly a part of the show.

There is a lot to love about the show. All four artists are incredibly strong and represent three of the four Atlantic provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. The four sing, dance, and smile their way through a series of east coast standards, with a couple of Sherwood’s original songs peppered throughout. Their easy-and-free rapport with each other and the crowd are designed to make the audience feel at home. And though the audience’s desire to partake in the audience participation was hit-and-miss during the opening-night performance.

Lizotte moves from accordion to piano to flute with ease and whimsical grace. Owen primarily plays the fiddle, but breaks out some percussive tap dancing at key points. Rogers handles most of the percussion, from the hand drum to the cajon, but also takes a turn at the piano and with a mandolin; and while Sherwood mainly focused on the guitar, he also broke out the clarinet and tickled a few ivories during the show.

But where the quartet truly stood out was when they combined their voices. Their harmonizing lifted the show beyond the norm and captivated the crowd.

In the musical director’s notes, Sherwood writes that the “kitchen party was (and continues to be) a way in which folks can pass down the tradition of Celtic songwriting and playing….” And if there was an opportunity lost, it’s that there was plenty of time for a greater dive into the stories and the history behind the music. The transitions were brief and superficial, and the audience really didn’t get a chance to learn much about the music beyond what they already knew.

There were other elements that were interesting, but really added no additional value. The audience members on the stage were just there — they truly didn’t add anything to the show and a few appeared to feel awkward “being watched.” And before the show and at intermission, patrons could walk up on stage and buy a beverage — again, interesting, but ultimately inconsequential.

Again, does this matter? If we were evaluating this as a theatre production, yes. But that’s not what the East Coast Kitchen Party is about. It is truly a celebration of music. It’s a concert, featuring four incredibly talented musicians, playing a bunch of songs that hearken back to Canada’s folk traditions. It’s a toe tapping, hip slapping, sing-along-if-you-know-it experience that truly embraces the collaborative spirit of the traditional kitchen party.

Does it belong on the stage? Who cares? Sometimes, you just need to enjoy the ride and celebrate.