Pier 21 the Musical comes to Steinbach


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In a production featuring live music, humour, dancing and drama, the audience will appreciate knowing funds will help raise funds for incoming refugees.

The Mennonite Heritage Village will host Pier 21 the Musical, for two shows March 18 and 19.

The musical uses a blend of Celtic and swing music to tell the stories of those who fled from Europe and arrived at Pier 21, the gateway to Canada.

Director and actor Allen Desnoyers said the concept for the show was something he had been thinking about for the better part of a decade.

“When Syrian refugees began arriving in my hometown of Ladner, B.C. in late 2016, the tenant at my home was from Libya and became a translator to local refugees and it seemed crucial to find a way to tell a story of people fleeing a war zone, but also make it an entertaining show,” he said in an email interview.

A visit to Pier 21 in Halifax in 2017 inspired him to begin writing a Celtic flavoured show that could incorporate immigrants and Second World War brides as well as swing music.

“Finding out that Pier 21 was where the troops departed from clinched the need to focus on the (Second World War) era itself and provided the show with a clear beginning, middle and end,” he said.

The production has been embraced and has been performed close to 250 times across Canada including a visit to Pier 21 in 2019. The pandemic cancelled the show that was planned for Ottawa on the 75th anniversary of VE Day and one planned for Steinbach in spring of 2020.

“Linda Schroeder from the museum was keen to bring us back,” he said. “And here we are three years later.”

The original cast came from the Vancouver area, although one, Jenny Warkentin has since moved to a farm in the Steinbach area. A new mom, she is no longer part of the production and was replaced with a Nova Scotia actor.

While the musical highlights a time a long way in the rearview mirror, Desnoyers said it continues to be relevant as Canada welcomes Ukrainians fleeing the war.

In fact, Desnoyers said he wrote a song for Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression in 2018 called I just want to be free, which included the lyric, “Stalin is a bully, the Russians have no clue, they think he is a saviour, they do not face the truth”.

“Our first performance post-COVID, after two years of cancellations was for the Mennonite Historical Society in Abbotsford, B.C.,” he said. “It was MC’d by a descendant of Ukrainian immigrants and several spoke after the show. That was 10 days before Putin invaded.”

Since then the show has raised funds for incoming refugees and currently coordinates with Oseredok, the Ukrainian Museum in Winnipeg.

Desnoyers said the show appeals to anyone who loves live music, dancing, humour and drama.

“We play five instruments live in the show: guitar, piano, violin, mandolin and bodhran,” he said. “It’s a story of the arrival of people from various countries hoping for a better life. And it’s a deeply spiritual show that touches on sacrifice and selflessness.”

He added his respect for his fellow actors is high.

“This show requires channeling a deep emotion journey, a traumatic one at times, and it’s very moving to see them embrace that, not only in performance but in rehearsal,” he said.

Pier 21 the Musical shows at the Mennonite Heritage Village at 7 p.m. on March 18 and 3 p.m. on March 19. Tickets are $25 and include a coffee and dessert.

For more information or to get tickets go to www.mennoniteheritagevillage.com or call 204-326-9661.

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