Four Chords and a Gun – A Play about The Ramones and Phil Spector – April 2019, Toronto

by Sally Warburton

Four Chords and a Gun – A Play by John Ross Bowie about the punk rock band Ramones and Phil Spector plays in Toronto for the month of April. Anyone who’s a huge Ramones fan or interested in learning about the band will enjoy following the story of part of their musical career together.

The Ramones were four musicians – four guys from Queens, New York City. Some think they’re brothers, but they’d changed their names to all be called Ramone – they aren’t brothers. The actors show the tension between all four group members. Ramones band members do not get along as well as you may think. They lash out at each other verbally, really well acted. Who were the actors? Improv comedian Ron Pederson was Phil Spector, Justin Goodhand from TV and theatre played Joey Ramone; Cyrus Lane of Stratford Festival fame was Johnny. Actors from Soulpepper Theatre Company were Paolo Santalucia and James Smith as Dee Dee and Marky.

Linda played by actress Vanessa Smythe was initially the girlfriend of Joey and then eventually wife of Johnny, obviously creating more conflict within the band. Info for those who don’t know the Ramones’ history! Whether you are a huge Ramones fan or someone who is learning about the band, it was all very mesmerizing.

Audience reaction to the Four Chords and a Gun show was one of the pleasant surprises. They were pleased with the way the Ramones and Phil Spector were portrayed and how the real-life story evolved. The acting and setting were superb. The 90-minute play went by very quickly. When the actor was concluding, it was a surprise. The 90 minutes had flown by! The sign of a good time!

Guitars decked the stage as did the message “GABBA GABBA HEY”, the catchphrase associated with the band. The play wasn’t a musical, the sign clearly reads “Not a F****ing Musical” – the actors didn’t sing…there was so much of interest when they spoke! Afterwards, there were music performances! A Ramones Tribute band of 4 guys came on stage and sang all the Ramones’ hit songs. Doug Weir of bands Syre and Hateful Snack was the guest singer. All Fantastic. The audience loved it. We were all taken back to the time when all the Ramones were alive and kicking and enjoying being the dynamic band that they were.

The Fleck Dance Theatre is a small, modern theatre with comfortable seats and provides an excellent view from any seat. Guests enjoyed a drink at the bar in the foyer area while checking out the merchandise for sale, seeing the photos from LISS Gallery and having their photo taken by the wall-sized backdrop of the Ramones. A choice of props could be used for pictures including their saying” Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!”
In the program was an advertisement for the Goodman Pub and Restaurant at Queen’s Quay. Having a drink here at this unique bar restaurant by Lake Ontario with people who’d seen the play was a relaxing way of completing the evening.

Four Chords and a Gun – a play about the Ramones at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Queen’s Quay, Toronto plays for the month of April. Fleck Dance Theatre is easy to access by TTC public transportation– subway, streetcar and by foot with lots of parking close by. Four Chords and a Gun moves to Chicago before New York City. “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” Hope you get the chance to see it!