I’m Not What I Seem: Stories and Songs of Rita MacNeil

In the fall of 2019 I created a musical tribute to Cape Breton’s First Lady of Song called I’m Not What I Seem: Stories and Songs of Rita MacNeil. The show was produced by Live Bait Theatre.

This celebration of MacNeil’s music featured Jennie Del Motte, Heather MacIntyre, Carley Varner-Joudrey and New Brunswick’s Queen of the Blues, Theresa Malenfant, performing over twenty of Rita’s songs. The show featured well known hits like “Working Man,” “Flying On Your Own,”  and “She’s Called Nova Scotia,” as well as a number of lesser known songs.

I hosted the evening, introducing the songs, reading excerpts from my Rita MacNeil biography, I’m Not What I Seem, and telling stories about working with Rita on the stage version of her life story.

MacNeil, who passed away in 2013 first came to national prominence in 1987 with her hit song, “Flying On Her Own.” At the time she was 42 years old and had been performing professionally for over twenty years. She famously won the Juno award that year as “Most Promising Female Vocalist,” beating out Celine Dion.

Previous to that MacNeil was well known on the folk festival circuit and was instrumental in the women’s movement in Canada. She released the country’s first feminist album, Born a Woman, in 1975. MacNeil faced a number of hardships on her road to success. This was often reflected in her music as many of her songs were autobiographical. This musical tribute not only celebrates her music but also her resilient spirit.

Del Motte, MacIntyre and Varner-Joudrey have all worked with Live Bait Theatre for a number of years, performing in both dinner theatres and mainstage productions. Del Motte has also worked with McSweeney’s Dinner Theatre and the Atlantic Ballet Theatre as a musical director. MacIntyre and Varner-Joudrey both have extensive performing experience and have gained a following for their musical duo, Harmony Girls. Malenfant has been a professional singer for over forty years and is widely regarded as one of Canada’s best blues singers.

The singers did not attempt to impersonate Rita, but rather showcased her extraordinary songwriting talents.

I’ve always felt that Rita was underrated as a songwriter and I have wanted to put a show like this together for years. I was hoping that the audience might hear Rita’s songs in a new light and even discover some gems that they were previously unaware of. The response was even better than I could have hoped for. Based on the audience reaction we hope to remount the show as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Clips from the Show

These clips are taken from a live recording of the show made by our Technical Director, Chris Meaney, during our performance in Springhill, NS on Nov. 7, 2019.

Listen to Thersea Malenfant singing Rita’s powerful song, “Let the Sun Come Through” here. Theresa’s version is heartbreaking and very moving.

I took the audio clip of “She’s Called Nova Scotia” from that same performance and added some images to create this video tribute to Nova Scotia. This is Harmony Girls  (aka Heather MacIntyre and Carley Varner-Joudrey) singing lead, with Theresa Malenfant providing backing vocals and Jennie Del Motte on keys. 


Audience Response to the Show

Loved this show and everyone in it. It was fantastic! Hats off to all the singers and the story teller! Rita would be proud! – J.V.

We went to the Friday night show in Amherst. Great entertainment!  I loved your story telling and the wonderful voices. So much we didn’t know about Rita…she gains a whole new respect. – G.Z.

Bravo Jennie Del Motte, Heather MacIntyre, Carly Varner-Joudrey and of course Theresa Malenfant and Charlie Rhindress. A musical tribute to Rita MacNeil was spectacular. – M.M.-S.

You outdid yourself.  The show was amazing.  One of the best shows I have ever seen.  You have incredible talent and your cast are amazing.  Bravo. – V.B.

All I can say is “WOW”!!!!! Such a great night. You guys did amazing. I was so proud of you up there !!!! Thanks again for a great evening. C.S.