Stephen Harper will regale a Red Deer audience with such ditties as Get a Job You Lazy Bum and (I Want Some) Big-Ass Fighter Jets next month.
Of course, Canada’s “prime minister” will only be a metre or so high when he appears in Stephen Harper: The Musical or How to Survive and Thrive in the Dying Days of the Empire of Oil.
The one-man “not exactly a tribute show” that runs on Thursday, Feb. 12, in the Red Deer College forum will feature a familiar-looking ventriloquist’s dummy sitting in the lap of the show’s star and creator James Gordon.
The custom-made Harper puppet will sport a helmet-like silver hair-do, wire glasses and a conservative suit and tie.
“I try to make him speak the lines that Harper, himself, would say,” said Gordon. But he admitted that getting the prime minister’s voice right has proven tricky. “I mean no offence to the man, but his voice is very bland. It’s not really high or low. … There’s no character to it.”
Unlike U.S. President Barack Obama’s abrupt stop-and-start speech pattern, Harper’s vocal delivery has no idiosyncrasies either. Gordon said he can only do so much with the vocalization — so he throws his Harper puppet a few snarky one-liners about Gordon’s lack of ventriloquist talent, for good measure.
The Guelph, Ont., musician used to be known as an innocuous children’s entertainer and singer on the folk circuit, before becoming subversively political about two years ago.
The change came with the passage of the first of the Harper government’s “omnibus bills.” The massive legislation was so “laden with things” that it would have been be impossible for the MPs voting on it to become familiar with everything it contained, recalled Gordon, who was appalled by this tactic.
“There were hidden aspects. (The bill) wasn’t open and transparent. I thought, wait a minute. Somebody’s trying to pull something over on us. …”
Gordon was concerned that important environmental clauses were being pushed through without everybody knowing about them. “I thought: how is this an open democracy?”
He began pondering how he could get other Canadians to pay more attention to this kind of thing happening in Ottawa.
Gordon came up with the idea of the Harper musical, figuring that even non-political folks might listen if he created an entertaining parody, complete with accompanying video slide show.
And there was no shortage of Harper actions to rail against — Gordon ended up writing 19 rant-ish songs for the musical, including a rap about the need for proportional representation.
The final step was studying ventriloquism after ordering a Harper doll from a German-born puppet maker living in Elora, Ont.
Gordon recalled, “She takes her craft very seriously — so seriously that when she gave me (the puppet) she told me, ‘He’s a person now, don’t put him in a suitcase.’ ”
Unfortunately, the carved styrofoam Harper does have to travel in airport luggage when the entertainer flies out West to tour Alberta and Saskatchewan.
But “if I’m driving, I’ll strap him into the passenger seat,” said Gordon, who once took the mini prime minister to Ottawa. “I took the puppet for a walk along Rideau Street and it created a lot of attention. A lot of people wanted to have a few words with Stephen. …”
He maintains it’s not the prime minister’s character he takes issue with, but his politics. “I wouldn’t be doing the play if I wasn’t against his policies.”
Whether other Canadians think Harper is doing a good job depends on which vantage point they are viewing him from, Gordon added. “I think his policies favour the one per cent — well-to-do people and larger corporations. Struggling smaller businesses have been hugely affected by things like free trade.”
So far, he said there’s been ample support for Stephen Harper: The Musical. Gordon has played to packed houses across the country.
Some of his two-hour shows, including the Red Deer one, are being presented by the Council of Canadians.
“We always believe in being critical of government, regardless of who’s in power,” said the council’s Red Deer and area chair Derrick Callan, who hopes the “fun” stage event will encourage more people take an interest in Parliament and question federal policies.
Callan feels it’s fitting that Gordon’s musical focuses on the oilsands and the prime minister giving his ear to lobbyists and oil company executives, since “a lot of people think Harper is just a puppet because he’s influenced by these groups.”
Lately, Canada’s leader seems a little more open minded on the question of future resources.
Gordon said he was heartened to hear the real Harper say in a recent speech that, with falling oil prices, it might be timely to look at other energy sources.
“You see, everybody’s learning,” added Gordon, who joked that Harper must have seen his musical because “he’s figured it out.”
Tickets to the show are $15 ($5 for students and the “unwaged”) from canadiansreddeer.org/musical.
Some free hot food will be served and information booths will be available from 6 p.m. The show is at 7 p.m. (Donations to defer cost of food and show gladly accepted.)
The musical is also being sponsored by the RDC political science and sociology student societies.