You may remember Stephen Harper from such hits as “With a Little Help from my Friends,” as performed at the National Arts centre with Yo-Yo Ma in 2009, or his Axl Rose-shaming “Sweet Child O’ Mine” from the 2014 Conservative Christmas Party.
The well-known crooner, who daylights as the country’s Prime Minister, is coming to Yellowknife this weekend. Or to be precise, and just a tad more realistic, a 3.5 foot-tall puppet version of him will be turning up the heat on Valentine’s Day with his eponymous off-Broadway hit, Stephen Harper: The Musical.
Harper’s name is in the title, but the true star of the show is folk musician James Gordon, maestro, minder and musical partner for the puppet-PM’s first northern sortie.
Gordon has been touring his musical satire for the last year and a half. The idea came to him, he told EDGEYK.com, after touring the country extensively with his band Tamarack and hearing from people concerned about Canada’s current political direction.
“I wanted to go into these issues a little deeper, and in a way that’s interactive and fun, that leaves people talking,” he says. There’s no pretense that this is a show without an agenda: Gordon himself is a politician just like the PM, albeit of a different scope and stripe. He ran twice, unsuccessfully, for the Ontario legislature as an NDP candidate, before being elected as a city councillor in Guelph this past year.
The first half of the one-man-one-puppet show is a bit of a history lesson, outlining legislative and policy decisions the Conservative Government has made since coming to power in 2006. “You couldn’t ask for more dramatic theatre than just listing the dramatic things Harper has done,” says Gordon.
The second half is more interactive. Audience members are invited to throw out suggestions for what they’d like to see in a post-Harper Canada.
“It’s a little parlour trick … We put the ideas on a flip chart and write an instant song during each performance. It becomes a little anthem for the town.”
For those used to Harper’s somewhat stiff and austere public persona turning the PM into a comic character might seem a herculean task. Gordon says he simply exaggerates many of Harper’s idiosyncrasies to the point of silliness. “If people are finding things bleak and humourless… the only thing to do is flip it around… Humour and music can be a good tool so they don’t feel bummed out, and humour and music are real community builders.”
Unlike other Harper-themed musicals, like one put on by Second City in Toronto, which saw the PM mounting a Broadway show to try turn around flagging ratings, Gordon’s show is mostly rooted in actual events, he says.
The fact that this an election year has made the musical a hot-ticket item Canada-wide, he says. The show is touring widely, and Gordon’s even using it to help raise funds and awareness for left-wing organizations across the country. The Northern Territories Federation of Labour, for example, is sponsoring the Yellowknife show.
“From a business standpoint I almost hope he wins or I won’t have a show anymore,” he says with a laugh.
So far Gordon hasn’t got much grief from Conservative Party officials over his show – though he has had people walk out, usually during the part where he talks about the PM’s evangelical Christianity. They’re probably the people who didn’t realize it was a satire when they bought their tickets, he says with a laugh.