PEI

New musical about Dutch Mason to star P.E.I.'s John Connolly

The new musical On the Road with Dutch Mason will premiere at The Mack this summer and will star P.E.I. actor, singer and writer John Connolly.

'It's an incredible story and the music's amazing — so all the boxes are checked'

The cast of On the Road with Dutch Mason includes P.E.I. native John Connolly (far left), who will play the legendary Canadian bluesman. (Submitted by the Confederation Centre of the Arts)

Canada's legendary prime minister of the blues will play alongside red-headed orphan Anne Shirley and Jesus in this summer's Charlottetown Festival.

The new musical On the Road with Dutch Mason will premiere at The Mack this summer and will star P.E.I. actor, singer and writer John Connolly. 

It is absolutely, quintessentially Atlantic Canadian.— Adam Brazier

"Dutch was a character — like every legend, there are so many stories that go along with them," Charlottetown Festival artistic director Adam Brazier said. 

The stories about Mason, like the man himself, "make you love him and hate him at the same time," Brazier said. People around him loved him while they tolerated "so much ridiculous and poor behaviour" from him. 

The show is based on the book of the same name by David Bedford and Harvey Sawler. The idea to adapt it into a play came from long-time festival regular Wade Lynch. 

"We realized the thing was full of brilliant music and great stories and it is absolutely, quintessentially Atlantic Canadian," Brazier said. 

'A return to the Island I love'

The play tells the story of a political science professor and amateur harmonica player who is recruited to join Mason on a historic road trip.

Dutch Mason played at the blues festival that bears his name in 2005, a year before he died. (Dutch Mason Blues Festival/Facebook)

It was challenging to find someone with the musical ability to sing and play the blues and also embody the charisma and darkness Mason possessed, Brazier said. He travelled to Toronto and sat through three days of auditions before reaching out to Connolly.

"The real irony is this guy was right here on P.E.I. the whole time," said Brazier. 

Connolly spent five years acting with the festival, but it's been six years since he's been on stage at The Mack. 

"It really is in so many ways a return to the Island I love and the stage I love and the company I love," said Connolly.

Has already played Connors, Rogers

Connolly saw Mason play at a Halifax bar in 2005, when he was in a wheelchair, and is excited to play him in the show. "On every level it is meaningful and important and it's an incredible story and the music's amazing — so all the boxes are checked," Connolly said. 

'This guy was right here on P.E.I. the whole time,' says Adam Brazier, left, with Connolly. (Angela Walker/CBC)

Connolly's no stranger to playing Canadian music icons — he's played Stompin' Tom Connors as well as Stan Rogers at The Mack. 

Connolly also has several award-winning recordings under his belt and has written and created the music and lyrics for the musical Marathon of Hope: The Terry Fox Story, which premiered in 2016. 

The show will be directed by Mary Francis Moore and will run from June 30 to Sept. 22. The cast will include festival newcomer Hailey Gillis and the return of Edward Murphy, Brendan Wall, Cameron MacDuffee and Greg Gale.

With files from Angela Walker

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