Musicals Almost Beyond Criticism - American Premiere of Northern Daughter
REVIEW for 2015 United Solo Theatre Festival by David Spencer (November 1, 2015)
"Virgin territory is literally the subject matter of Northern Daughter, a touring-and-bookable show, written and performed by Donna Creighton, who accompanies herself on guitar (script co-written by Louise Fagan); the show is a not-so-semi autobiographical import from up North that made a one-performance appearance at the United Solo Theatre Festival and has been invited to return next year, for being, among other things, uniquely Canadian.
Having spent much time working there, I can attest that it is that, though my time was confined to cities, and Ms. Creighton’s 70 minute, anecdotal odyssey is about the existence of a girl named Josephine, growing into a young woman, in the Northern backwoods. It’s about the hardship, the loneliness, the isolation, the finding of heart, humor and humanity where you can—and the ever-growing spirit that eventually leads to the biggest strength of all…the strength to leave.
With a catchy, hooky musical vocabulary drawn from folk idioms—country, but not quite like American country (we’re in the tradition of Stan Rogers here)—is not a “trained” musical, and I’m not sure it would benefit from having been so. This is a rare instance in which I would concede that the rawness of its setting and story is a perfect justification (and metaphor) for the impulsive and compulsive nature of its song score. Which is not to say there isn’t a good deal of sophistication in the show’s construction; but Ms. Creighton and Ms. Fagan are too smart to threaten verisimilitude by making you notice it.
Like the show’s heroine, who is at once extroverted and modest, it insinuates rather than insists; and like the backwoods existence, it casts a seductive yet unsentimental spell."
Theatre critic David Spencer is winner of a 2000 Kleban Award for excellence in theatre lyrics, and both a 2002 Richard Rodgers Development Award and a 2002 Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Commendation Grant for his upcoming musical THE FABULIST, an epic fable of Aesop, for which he has written music and lyrics (book by Stephen Witkin based on the novel by John Vornholt). He is also librettist and lyricist to composer Alan Menken, for THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ based on the novel by Mordecai Richler (2005).
Northern Daughter Makes It's World Premiere
REVIEW for Theatre in London by Kenneth Chisholm
A person’s roots can define everything they are in ways they least expect. This play is a gorgeous one-person show where Donna Creighton illustrates that truth with evocative stories and songs about life in Northern Ontario.
For a one-person show, this is among the most immersive I have ever experienced, with Creighton providing a wealth of characters on a beautiful canvas of the mind. Using a semi-autobiographical approach, Creighton uses those creations to create a powerful story rife with joys and sorrows that pulls you into the northern bush, avoiding cliche while tapping into a deeper truth. Whether it’s the romanticism of canoeing with as much casual confidence and practicality as biking in the city, or dealing with the neighbours at their best or worse, Creighton and Fagan create a whole world of rustic beauties and shadows alike.
To that end, Creighton brings the story to life with masterful acting, whether it is the worldly wise and secretly sonorous Mrs. Peterson, the central character’s weary father, or the foul drunken menace of Mr. McAllister. Creighton slips between the roles with masterful protean skill that only requires a change in stance and voice to create.
That thespian talent is matched only by her singing, which reminds me of the graceful wisdom of Joan Baez; it draws me into her world like an enthralling siren of the North, truly promising peace and clarity with each note. Her spot-on parodies of the old Hinterland Who’s Who spots says much for her fused musical and comedic talent even as our memories are invited back to those quiet classics of Canadian TV.
Finally, the set is graceful perfection that needs only a few white aspen trees, rocks, and an almost ethereal misty glow to provide ambiance to the land. The whole feel is of a world shrouded by childhood memories, good and bad, that the narrator is ready to grow out of, but still remember forever. The total effect is a one-woman show that will pull you into her memories and imagination more thoroughly than any VR tech will be able to do for years.
Life for most people in Canada has been described in jest as being arranged as like a kind of weather stripping for the US border. This show is a welcome look at the real country that is equally a part of us.
Northern Daughter Gives Audiences a Taste of Reality
It’s one thing to spend a vacation in Northern Ontario; it’s quite another to live there year-round.
London singer-songwriter Donna Creighton’s Northern Daughter gives audiences a taste of the reality at the Grand Theatre’s McManus Studio for London Fringe.
This coming-of-age story comes as billed, “a compelling backwoods story with music, humour and grit.”
Creighton alternately reinforces and dispels the romantic notions of living on a lake in the north -- the trees, animals, clear waters and fresh air played against the reality of the cold, harsh and lonely environment.
She tells the story of a girl, Josephine, raised in the bush by a cultured mother from the city who was swept up in a weekend romance to marry a country music loving “hillbilly” whose life revolved around hunting, fishing and logging.
Creighton does a good job of portraying the various characters in her story, which is backed up by her sweet voice and insightful songs.
This is one of the little gems you’ll find at every Fringe festival that may not be a favorite, but will certainly enrich your life.
Northern Daughter is on Monday (9 p.m.), Wednesday (8:30 p.m.), Friday (9:45 p.m.) and Saturday (6:45 p.m.)
Creighton Warms You With Her Northern Hospitality
REVIEW for The London Yodeller by Melony Holt
Northern Daughter is a story set on a modest background that belies the depth and impact of the show.
Surrounded by only a few birch logs, some rocks, a guitar, and a paddle, Donna Creighton is able to fill in the rest with a story of growing up as a northern daughter.
Along the way we meet her gruff, outdoorsy father; her transplanted metropolitan mother; and a neighbour who teachers her life lessons, based on a history of literature, philosophy, and common sense.
I loved the way she effectively differentiated between the characters with just a few subtle changes. And the use of the ubiquitous Canadian Wildlife service announcements (complete with a recorder) added a uniquely Canadian touch to the play and served to introduce each chapter.
Creighton moves the story forward using music. She didn’t stick to only a country-esque genre, but used different types of music that would reflect not only the point of the story, but where she was in her personal journey.
For those who have left the country to come to a city – and then find themselves called back for whatever reason, you’ll find much in common with the production. Even if you haven’t, Northern daughter is a uniquely Canadian story that resonates through us all.
Apt613 REVIEW of Northern Daughter
Review for Apartment 613 by Patrick Jodoin — Monday June 15th, 2015
Equipped with merely an acoustic guitar and a paddle, Donna Creighton tells the coming-of-age story of Josephine, a young woman growing up in the Canadian far north, where the temperature is not the only frigidity she encounters.
Through a series of vignettes performed before a sparse set of birch trees and rock, Creighton shifts seamlessly from character to character as she offers a highlight reel of her childhood, or a vague era therein—the timeline is not explicit. Whether this is an intentional minimalist approach to storytelling or pure oversight is not clear, but I lean toward the former.
Viewers expecting a straightforward narrative will find it through some ambiguity, with a great deal left out—such as the exact age of Josephine at each moment; or the fallout from each scene—Northern Daughter is indeed a select peppering of the moments Creighton has chosen to shine a light upon (which have defined her).
Daughter is a well-oiled machine. While still a relatively young play, the balance between Creighton’s shifting of characters and the light-work, sound effects, etc., creates a transformative world. The production is masterful, the viewer knows when he or she is on the lake; at Mrs. P’s house or in the woodshed, each setting has its own feeling. Creighton as tour guide lets you know when you’re safe, in danger, or downright freezing—through sheer acting and good ol’ well-timed production. The viewer is successfully immersed into Josephine’s world.
While some of the secondary character’s voices are at-times a little abrasive and their portrayals perhaps slightly over-wrought, Josephine herself is a sympathetic character for whom the viewer feels an immediate concern and understanding. As Creighton tells her story, we’re instantly invested.
Creighton is a talented singer/songwriter. Her genre is admittedly out of this reviewer’s area-of-expertise, so my comparisons may be a little off, but Joni Mitchell fans should be right at home in Creighton’s audience. Her songs serve to set the mood (or to lighten it at times) and they give viewers an emotional context.
Furthermore, Creighton offers some hilarious vintage Canadiana as respite between scenes, fans of Canadian television from the ‘80s should see Northern Daughter, I’ll offer no further detail at risk of spoiling the comedic aspects of the otherwise fairly harsh story. The sense of humour at-play here echoes to the likes of The Red Green Show et al.
Northern Daughter is at once a story of tragedy, desperation and healing through an unlikely friendship. Despite a few unanswered questions, the story does come full-circle from start to finish, with an “a-ha!” moment at the end. It is an ultimately satisfying story.
Northern Daughter is playing at Venue 3—Academic Hall (133 Séraphin-Marion Private) on Sunday, June 21 at 10:30 p.m.; Monday, June 22 6:30 p.m.; Wednesday, June 24 9:30 p.m.; Friday, June 26 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, June 27 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 28 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $12.
Quick Footnote: Creighton has arranged the production of a documentary of Northern Daughter’s road to its American off-Broadway debut. Filming in Ottawa will take place on the show’s June 27 and 28 dates.
Readers are encouraged to attend and be a part of history-in-the-making!
Onstage Ottawa REVIEW of Northern Daughter
Northern Daughter is a coming-of-age story, mostly. It tells of a young woman’s upbringing in the Canadian bush.
The show has quite a few interesting anecdotes about life in the wilderness of the Canadian North. Things like taking the canoe to visit your neighbours, to handling a home invasion from a black bear. There’s everything in the mix from funny to horrifying.
These are the parts of the show that work best and are super interesting. It’s so far removed from most of our usual experience that this is the stuff we can’t get enough of.
The show does a lag a bit in the areas around those anecdotes, mostly around the framing device of an adult Josephine returning to the bush after a vow never to do so. It slows the pace down and keeps you waiting for the show to get back to the good stuff.
As is, Northern Daughter’s an interesting show, especially if you’re into stories from other cultures – yes, the Canadian North applies. But with a bit of tightening and honing in on the narrative, adding more stories from the north, and this is a show I’d be happy to see again.
“WOW! An incredibly powerful play, lightened by music and laughter from the audience. Hauntingly beautiful voice and story—filled with tragedy, painful memories, laughter and a reminder we all make choices to paddle on through the troubled waters and storms of life.” ~ Jacquie T.
“Be prepared for a powerful, emotional wallop to the gut, to gasp, to nod in agreement and come to the edge of tears. Donna brilliantly and powerfully portrays her rough-around-the-edges father and her genteel and sophisticated mother, the other half of this fated-to-fail marriage. We meet the chain-smoking neighbour and mentor Mrs P., and Bailey the dog. You will be riveted. The songs are powerful. The singing and guitar playing a real treat. Northern Daughter is as real as drama gets.” ~ Vincent C.
“STUNNING!!!! Northern Daughter’s haunting songs and stories share the raw nature of growing up in the wilds of the Canadian bush. Donna’s splendid voice, and gift for bringing her characters to life through compelling narratives, completely draws the audience into the humor and heartache of this semi-autobiographical piece. While not for children, this is currently the best hour of theatre outside of Stratford and needs to be seen!” ~Jacquie B. K.
“Wow. Go see Northern Daughter—so good. I am completely blown away!” ~ Madison C.
“I saw the show tonight and was very moved. Everything comes together here, the writing, acting, set, music. And Donna is a wonder, changing characters in a heartbeat. Her Mrs. P. is a marvel, inhaling & exhaling from that invisible cigarette while dispensing wisdom. And those intense scenes with Mr. McAllister, and Bailey, were courageously written and acted. The writing throughout is superb; it felt like a novel with 95% of the text edited out, but nothing is missing. And the songs are perfectly suited and situated. Congratulations Donna and company. A powerful, honest, brave, deeply moving and entertaining experience.” ~Roger F.
“Northern Daughter brings to life both charming and chilling childhood memories and experiences in the bush of Northern Ontario. This show deserves to be seen by many! What a moving performance – a tour de force. Donna is a natural onstage – born to sing and entertain Congratulations!” ~ Diane G.C.
“Northern Daughter was spectacular. It needs to be on the big screen! I was in from start to finish!! WOW. WOW. WOW. Totally love the music and got the CDs too. I was humming all the way home!! Congrats. Truly an amazing Canadian show. Spectacular!” ~ Tara S.
“Northern Daughter an absolute must see!!! Brilliant!” ~ Kim K.
“I will take Mrs. P’s wisdom on with me forever . . . ‘We all have our own choices to make, and with whatever choice you make, there will also be a pile of shit you will inevitably have to deal with’ – and just deal with it! I will always be proud to be a Mrs. P card carrying member—available to my daughters and their young friends, any woman, any young man—any PERSON who needs advice, help, support or just an ear, any time. And as she proudly drank her scotch from a tea cup, I proudly drink my beer from a wine glass and smoke way too many cigarettes!” ~ Rebekah M. W.
“The performance was great. Choices. That is what life is all about. The set was perfect.” ~ George S.
“It was brilliant to see how Donna Creighton crafted those ideas into a well delivered, and at some times gut wrenching, stream of conscience. Along with well timed comedic relief, the overall presentation was a gem to witness. Bravo Donna!” ~ Richard M.
“Just got in the door after a lovely night out, which started with this amazing, powerful and powerfully delivered production. Northern Daughter is emotional, evocative and thoroughly entertaining. Bravo Donna Creighton and Louise Fagan.” ~ Vinnie C.
“Amazing talent!” ~ Teresa R.
“Wow. What a tremendous performance, amazing play, music, and theatrical design. Each character voice was so distinct. You have a talent for drama and a future with one woman shows!” ~ Susan C.
“Donna, you wove an intricate northern tapestry and the jewels were your songs. Bravo.” ~ Catherine G. L.
“I went opening night . . . enthralling. Take this one in! Donna-doll does a job.” ~ Gerald F.
“Northern Daughter, with Donna Creighton, was a Tour De Force!!!! Can’t wait to see where it goes! A little slice of Canadiana and a story that has needed to be told for a long time.” ~ Wendy L.
“Bravo Donna!” ~ Mark Z.
Innocence And Experience: A Review of Northern Daughter
REVIEW by Amie Ronald-Morgan
I’ve been a city dweller all of my life so I’m inclined to idealize what it might be like to come of age outside an urban setting – somewhere like the wilds of Northern Ontario.
Just imagine: Climbing the majestic craggy rocks and paddling the crystal clear waters; waking up to the haunting call of the loon and falling asleep under a comforting blanket of stars. Growing up tall and strong alongside the trees.
There is a certain magic up north in the Canadian bush, to be sure. But then there are the ice-cold outhouse seats, the bears, the volatility of nature, and having to deal with people who have lived in isolation for so long that they’ve lost touch with their humanity.
Northern Daughter serves up a good shot of reality of life in the sticks while retaining just enough romanticism to make us proud to be Canadian. This well-scripted, strongly executed play-with-music (as opposed to a musical) recently debuted at The Arts Project in London.
Written by Donna Creighton and Louise Fagan, the show centers on Josephine, a woman who has returned to her childhood home after many years to attend to a personal matter. Creighton plays Josephine as well as the four other characters who played pivotal roles in her life. The seeds of these stories can be traced back to Creighton’s own roots growing up in the Ottawa Valley, but are largely fictional.
With abundant humour, Josephine recounts anecdotes involving these individuals and the lessons they imparted to her. These moments in time are punctuated with lively, catchy original songs by Creighton, who sings and plays guitar throughout.
Some memories are not so funny. Such is life, and Creighton does not shy away from loss and violation – the moment when innocence comes to an abrupt halt. Her earnest performance brought the audience to the edge of seats more than once. There are several points in the play where a less confident actor could have hidden behind the narrative. But she went for it each time and managed to steer clear of melodramatics. Creighton’s turn in Northern Daughter is the definition of fearless.
We never pity Josephine, however; she grabs onto her strength like she did when she was a kid learning to swim with but a simple rope and wood contraption made by her father. She is bolstered by her neighbour Mrs. Peterson, a forthright divorcee with whom periodical visits Josephine comes to look forward to. To an extent they have both worked through their hardships in song. Art is a great form of therapy. The hard-boiled and well-read Mrs. Peterson got the most belly laughs from the audience.
Creighton is a fabulous live musician; able to captivate an audience with just an acoustic guitar and her voice. She’s clearly quite at home onstage with her instrument. But her acting chops are just as strong as her musical talent. When she rows using an oar and a simple rock to sit upon, we can feel it in our bones. When she cries, we feel her despair and connect back to our own moments of grief and heartache. When she closes the show, we don’t want it to end.
For a one-hander to succeed so well in exploring relationships – with others as well as with nature – is a triumph. I still have the titular song in my head!
Ottawa Fringe REVIEW of Northern Daughter
REVIEW for Ottawa Fringe by Alison P
It seems that the Fringe this year is crowded with single-woman shows that are at least semi-autobiographical. ‘Northern Daughter’ is one of the entries in this field, but not to be ignored because of that. Donna’s singing is a step above. I could have sworn at several times that I was hearing Joan Baez, and found myself humming ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ on the way home that night. Her guitar work is also lovely, and very professional. No buzzing strings as this woman changes her chords!
Donna lays out the life of a girl growing up in northern Ontario with great realism. The cold dash to the outhouse in winter, what it’s like to be caught in a canoe on a stormy lake, the isolated lives that many either endure or enjoy, depending on their temperament, all are part of the experience.
‘Northern Daughter’ also has more of a set than most. There’s a lovely backdrop of silhouetted firs, with sparkling stars in the sky. The stage is set with three good-sized, water-worn greyish granite boulders (you know they have to be fake, but they don’t look it) and a few, scattered, dried leaves on a pale groundcloth to evoke the typical Canadian Shield lakeshore. Then there is the murmur of waves on the shore, or the sound of a paddle in the water, to further bring you into the scene.
I really enjoyed watching Donna perform, and urge people to add this to their list. She had the misfortune to open at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 21, with an audience of only eleven, which I think has contributed to her flying under the radar over the last few days. There are three shows left, so relax in the comfy seats of Academic Hall, and enjoy the show!