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Spirit of Newfoundland is still celebrating the 60th anniversary of St. Pat’s Mercy Home, with its 2018 show “Stand By Your Nan.”
Commissioned by St. Pat’s to commemorate this milestone, Spirit of Newfoundland was tasked with a somewhat daunting project — writing a musical comedy about a nursing home.
The show began in 1953, with a newsboy advertising the daily paper. The headline — the announcement of the construction of an 82-bed facility for senior citizens, to be named after Archbishop Patrick Skinner.
Standing in front of projections showcasing local history bites, a reporter (John Williams) detailed the “cent-a-meal” initiative, which asked citizens to put aside a penny per every meal to help with construction costs and raised over $200,000 , with some cheeky citizens (Kara Notfall and Leslie Stuckless) donating because they are “probably going to end up there in a few years.”
Construction began in 1954, and the facility officially opened in 1958.
Fast forward to 2020 — aspiring journalist Molly Murphy (Erin Winsor) is assigned a school project about the 60th anniversary of St. Pat’s, and is dismayed by her “boring” assignment.
She heads down to the home with her friend Travis Tucker (Keith Power) who mysteriously seems to know the building inside out, as well as the current residents, like Gertie Hawco, a former nurse of St. Pat’s and current resident, whose diary is, like Travis, a wealth of knowledge.
Travis steals the diary in a somewhat misguided effort to help Molly with her project, the diary’s contents sends the pair — and the audience — on a trip down memory lane.
The show, peppered with musical numbers, witty humour, a healthy dose of self-awareness and breaking of the fourth wall, highlighted the decorated history of the facility, like the decadent garden parties, the legacies of former residents and workers, its expansion in the 1980s, and even spooky ghost stories.
As the friends spend more and more time at the home while working on Molly’s assignment, she begins to question Travis’ intimate knowledge of the home and its residents. Molly soon learns that Travis has been volunteering at St. Pat’s for three years, though he generally withholds that information, embarrassed to tell his schoolmates that his best friend is 97 years old.
My personal favourite line of the show would come as Travis explained why he won’t tell the “b’ys” the real reason why he “can’t chip in on a half case with ya ‘dis weekend — because I’m savin’ up for a new bingo dabber,” grumbling that he “hasn’t been on da hitch in weeks.”
Through Gertie’s diary, and Travis’ connections, Molly unknowingly develops a deep passion for her formerly “boring” assignment. In brainstorming the projects’ title, the pair come up with “Stand By Your Nan,” a tribute to the importance of respecting, loving, and caring for our elderly population, and of course, the title of the Spirit of Newfoundland show.
Featuring the talents of Power, Noftall, Williams, Stuckless, and Winsor in multiple roles, with musical accompaniment by Bill Brennan and Frank Fusari, this show tugs on the heartstrings while ensuring a long-lasting smile — and the likelihood of having country/western star Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” stuck in your head for days to come.