Out and About
“Four Chords and a Gun” – a new play about the Ramones – on stage April 2 to 28, 2019 (Toronto)
FOUR CHORDS AND A GUN is a comic and explosive new play about the infamous punk band the Ramones, that’s written by John Ross Bowie (actor from “The Big Bang Theory”, “Speechless”). The Canadian premiere is directed by long-time Toronto Star theatre critic and director Richard Ouzounian, and runs at the Fleck Theatre April 2 – 28, 2019.
On May 1, 1979 New York’s iconic punk band, the Ramones, went into Gold Star Studios in Hollywood and started recording their fifth album, End of the Century,with legendary producer Phil Spector. The clash of political and musical sensibilities, resulted in walkouts, betrayals, and broken hearts, but also a transformation of the Ramones as a band. The album was the band’s biggest seller, even though the eccentricities of Specter nearly killed them.
FOUR CHORDS AND A GUN follows these tension-filled 1979 recording sessions for the Ramones fifth studio album – now the stuff of musical legend. Conflicting stories of that period in their career abound, some insisting that Spector pulled a gun on the Ramones and held them hostage to keep them in the studio, while some insist it never happened. The production opens almost 40 years to the day that these historic events unfolded.
Based on Bowie’s exhaustive research, the script delves into the personal tensions between the band members themselves, as well as their often violent struggles with Spector. It’s a powerful story both funny and touching – which explores the Ramones, Linda Daniele (the woman who loved two of them), and the charismatic, destructive Spector.
Starvox producer Corey Ross and Ouzounian have assembled an exciting cast of Toronto theatre talent to bring Bowie’s script to full life. Justin Goodhand (Retreat, Great Expectations) as Joey, Cyrus Lane (Bunny, Twelve Angry Men) as Johnny, Paolo Santalucia (Animal Farm, Bed and Breakfast) as DeeDee, James Smith (Rose, Lessons in Temperament) as Marky, Vanessa Smythe (Bullet for Adolf, Domesticated) as Linda and Ron Pederson (The Wonder Pageant, “Mad TV”) as Phil Spector. Backstage, Ouzounian is joined by an award-winning team including Nicholas Blais as production and lighting designer, Ming Wong as costume designer, and Sharon Rymanas wig designer.
Unlike many stage shows about rock bands to date, FOUR CHORDS AND A GUN is not a musical. However, each night after the show is over, the cast (who all play instruments) will return to the stage for a jam session of classic Ramones tunes.
“When I first read this play, two thoughts instantly struck me,” director Richard Ouzounian adds. “First, what an exciting, dramatic story to tell! And second, what an astonishing showcase for six talented young Toronto performers. Every music fan knows who the Ramones and Phil Spector were, but it’s not as well known that they spent a few weeks of hell together in a recording studio, with Spector messing around with their heads and eventually pulling out a.45 revolver to seal the deal. I also love the fact that it isn’t a “jukebox musical,” but a serious play that celebrates the Ramones music in a concert after the tale was told. And best of all, I saw a way to work with people like Justin Goodhand, Cyrus Lane, Paolo Santalucia, James Smith, Vanessa Smythe and Ron Pederson, whose work I admire tremendously.”
Speaking to the impetus to write the play Bowie says “I always loved the fact that there were so many conflicting stories about how all the stuff went down with Phil Spector. There are versions where he’s drawing a gun on them constantly. There’s a version where he just puts the gun on the mixing board to threaten them. There’s a version where he keeps them hostage in his house until late the following day. I love that this incredibly recent history is as disputed as the Crusades. But first and foremost I wanted it to work as a piece of theatre, so what’s on stage here is based in fact with my imagination filling in blanks to hopefully create the most satisfying theatrical experience. As for the people who do know the story of the Ramones, here is a way you’ve never seen it told.”
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.