Friday, 23 January 2015

Mention of minor league pro franchise is missing from Coderre's baseball field announcement

It is great to hear that Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is pledging $11 million to whip the city’s baseball diamonds  into shape with Montreal’s new baseball policy.

"Montreal is a baseball town," the mayor told a City Hall press conference.
Mayor Denis Coderre

I have not had a chance to read Montreal's new baseball policy, but it would nice to see one of the city's diamonds retrofitted sufficiently in order for us to attract a minor league professional team. If Quebec City and Trois-Rivieres can be the home to Can-Am League minor league squads, then why has Montreal had nothing since the Expos left town 10 years ago? Yes, the Montreal Baseball Project and Expos Nation keep hoping that the major leagues will return here one day. The Big Owe was filled to capacity for two Toronto Blue Jays exhibition games against the New York Mets last April. It will be interesting to see if they can duplicate that feat when the Jays host the  Cinncinati Reds. April 3 and 4.

Over the last few years I have made two trips to Vancouver, going to see their "A" level affiliate of the Blue Jays twice. They play in a cozy 5,000 seat stadium in a June  to September schedule. It's a great place to watch a ball game and they  have a loyal clientele.

All those  people working towards this dream of an Expos 2.0 should get on the phone to Coderre. Ask him to retrofit Claude Robilliard Stadium for baseball  or perhaps  a spot like Riverside Park in LaSalle. If we can get a small complex with at least 3,000 seats,  a minor league team would be within reach and the true baseball fans could  get their fix.

"Baseball is part of Montreal's DNA," says Coderre.

If that's true then let's get a franchise at any level of pro ball.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The end of an era: Sid Milech steps back at YCC; Stephen Rabinovitch at the helm

Sid Milech is taking a step back. The legendary long-time boss of the  Y Country Camp (YCC) now has the title of Director of Emeritus, with Stephen Rabinovitch coming forward as the interim director.

Sid Milech

After over 20 years at the helm of  Milech will focus his attention on the strategic development of the YCC. A press release states how he will be " instrumental in ensuring YCC continues to produce future Jewish leaders of our community - while working at camp in the summer - and from our Montreal offices during the off-season."

Milech will continue  in his role as a key member of the executive staff of the Montreal Y and as the senior Jewish educator.

Rabinovitch has been at the camp as Associate Director for the past 13 years, and brings a wealth of experience and energy to this position.  Over the years, he has developed meaningful connections with the campers, parents and counsellors and is known as a caring and sensitive individual who is always there for the kids.
Stephen Rabinovitch and family.

As interim director , Rabinovitch  will be responsible for all the overall operations of the camp, working hand-in-hand with the Milech in his new role. The duo will continue to function as a team.

"I’m very excited about this new challenge, and I look forward to continuing my strong relationship with our current families, campers, staff and alumni while actively recruiting new families and bringing them into the fold,” said Rabinovitch, whose wife Miriam, daughter Livia, 5, and son Ashton,2,  are raring to go  to spend another summer at their home away from home.

The YCC is a residential sleeping camp that offers a full range of activities and outstanding facilities to over 500 campers every summer. It provides versatile programming in a Jewish ambiance ensuring a meaningful summer experience for all who attend. I have seen Milech in action when as a parent I checked out the camp. He is a very thorough individual who has a way of making campers feel totally at ease.







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Saturday, 10 January 2015

Wildside Festival: Johnny Legdick is a "must see;" Rachel Mars' Canadian debut

For my very first time, I took a walk on the “Wildside” January 9 – The Centaur Theatre’s (453 St. François-Xavier)  18th annual Wildside Festival to be more precise, taking in two productions:    Rachel Mars’ The Way You Tell Them and the rock opera Johnny Legdick. 

Dubbed “the 10 hottest days of winter,” the Wildside Festival delivers boundary breaking theatre. With a keen eye for the new and unusual, local playwright and actress Johanna Nutter has curated a program from mime and movement to Legdick’s rock opera and comedy.
Hannah and Johnny.

The Centaur’s Roy Surette sums it up best this way: “Wildside is Centaur’s no-holds-barred blast off into the new year, an open invitation to the audacious and curious."

To say I found Johnny Legdick entertaining is an absolute understatement. Having been pitched stories on the subject a few times I decided to go see it myself, with no particular expectations. Well, it was amazing: edgy, risqué, musical and most of all truly hilarious. I do not recall laughing this hard at a stage production in a long time and that says a lot given the fact I just saw the Tony Award winning Book of Mormon at the Place des Arts more than a months ago,

This marks Playwright Hero & the Jem’s third run of   Johnny Legdick, originally presented at MainLine Theatre last February and remounted at the Montreal Fringe Festival.

As the bizarre storyline goes, Johnny Legdick is a young man (played by Colin Macdonald) fighting against oppression, prejudice, and a hoard of vicious basset hounds, all while struggling with the mechanics of having three legs – that third one being in the place of his most intimate private part. His love interest Hannah (Arielle Palik) has a hand where her private part is. They team up with a half man, half horse named Steve the Steed (Travis Martin) to best the evil circus ringleader Suckadecocka (Tadzeo Horner-Chbib) and escape to the all-accepting isle of Diversus Homo.
Hannah, Johnny and Steed.

Martin, in my opinion, absolutely steals the show with his zinger of one liners and the ongoing gag of him having no pants.

Jonah Carson, lead singer of The Jem, says he thought of the idea while singing one of his many ditties at Dawson College's Professional Theatre department with Jimmy Karamanis, co-founder of Playwright Hero. "When I first saw Vindictive Vice-President," Carson says of Playwright Hero's first production, "I knew: these are the people who can bring the Legdick to life!"
The entire rock opera was subsequently written based on just a single line: ‘He has a leg where his dick is supposed to be.’ "We're appealing to anyone who has been called a freak or otherwise outcast," Carson continues, "wear it proudly!"

Beneath the seemingly juvenile exterior there is a serious message about oppression, power struggles and the definition of what is normal. "The relevancy in the work evolved over time," says director Karamanis. "It started out simply as a story about a guy who, you know, has a leg where his naughty bits are supposed to be. But once the characters were developed, the theme of being comfortable with who you are came out. To quote Johnny Legdick, 'We can be heroes, the whole world will see, that even as freaks, we can be free!'"

 I really enjoyed the music in this show. Macdonald in particular displayed a very impressive singing voice. A shout out as well to Côte Saint-Luc native Zachary Guttman,  whom I saw perform a number of years ago when he was in high school. Zack is now studying acting in New York City and at the show I attended he made a pretty funny cameo appearance on stage.

Martin notes that most of the crew reside in the West End. He was nice enough to provide me with short snippets of some cast and band members, all of which will be fodder for follow up stories as I really want to see what comes up next for these folks. Martin, for instance,  went to Willingdon Elementary School, Royal Vale High School and the Dawson College Professional Theatre Program. 

“I am in the indie game developer community here sort of, especially the organization  Mount Royal Game Society,” he explains. “My parents are notable classical musicians in the city. My mom's in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra on Trombone and my dad has been a freelance sub/ jazzer/ arranger for Gregory Charles, among others and is currently Professor of Brass at the Université de Montréal. I was also in the Westmount Youth Orchestra for a few years.”

Tickets are $15, general admission and $12.50 for students/subscribers/under 30. To purchase: (514) 288-3161 or online at www.centaurtheatre.com/wildsidefestival.php, Remaining shows are  Sunday, Jan. 11 (4 p.m.); Thursday, Jan. 15 ( 7 p.m.)  and Saturday, Jan. 17 (9 p.m.).

The Way You Tell Them

As for The Way You Tell Them, presented by Montreal’s Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre,  I was curious to see Rachel Mars bring her United Kingdom act to Canada for the first time. As she told the audience at the very beginning of the solo performance, “this is not a comedy; it is a show about comedy.”

Mars, 33,  brings her Jewish background into the routine.  She even found a way to solicit laughs when she recounted a funeral in which the hole in the ground was not large enough to accommodate the coffin. It came to the point where the rabbi actually jumped up and down in the coffin until it went down, after which he had to hauled up himself. She wondered how Christian friends in attendance at their first Jewish funeral now thought.

Mars told me in an interview a few weeks back how she is still   very involved in Jewish culture and community back home and has just finished producing the UK's first Jewish Comedy Festival. She always throws in some classic Jewish jokes, a few extracts from the Yom Kippur service and discussion about repentance, and stories about her very own Jewish family who - when she phones – does not ask  how she is, but whether  she’s heard the one about the little old Jewish woman who got flashed.

“This is a performance piece, not a comedy show,” Mars explains. “It's absolutely got funny bits in it, and it borrows from the rhythms and fluidity of a stand-up show, but it is about comedy/humour and why we use it as humans and as families I made it when I realized that I could never be serious -in life and in performance- without undercutting myself; so I went in search of why that might be, and the joys and pathologies of joking as a way of connecting with people. The sole purpose of a stand-up routine is to get laughs. The purpose of this show is to interrogate the role of the joke-teller; to explore laughter in an accessible and entertaining way, but without needing to make gags every few seconds.”

Rachel Mars
Joseph Shragge, the co-artistic director of Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre, believes audiences will very much appreciate the one hour presentation. “The show is comedy, but it’s also self-reflexive, innovative and very moving,” he promises. “It resonates with me personally, having grown up in the Jewish community here. I know our usual audience will love it, but I think other people who’ve grown up in the Jewish community will really appreciate Rachel’s work as well.”

Remaining performances are Saturday January 10 (2 p.m.), Tuesday, January 13 (9 p.m.), Wednesday, January 14 (7 p.m.) and Friday, January 16 (7 p.m.). For more information call 514-288-3161 or log on to www.scapegoatcarnivaletheatre.com.   










Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Jersey Boys is a blast at the Place des Arts; what musicals are on tap next?


I recently returned from New York City, the home of the world’s most outstanding Broadway musicals where I saw Idina Menzel in If/Then.  Last summer I was in London, England, home of the famous West End live theatre scene and got tickets for the spectacular Miss Saigon. A year ago it was Toronto, thanks to Mirvish Entertainment’s thriving scene and Les Miserables.


Montreal gets Broadway musicals in bits and pieces. Last summer The Lion King returned here for an extended run at the Place des Arts. In December we had the fabulous Book of Mormon. This week the  Tony and Grammy Award winning musical Jersey Boys is on tap for with eight shows through January 11. What a treat! I attended Tuesday’s Montreal premiere and it was a blast!
A scene from Jersey Boys The Musical.

Jersey Boys won a Tony for Best Musical and a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album in 2006. It is the true story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks who became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time.  They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide - all before they were 30. The show features all their hits including Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Oh What A Night, Walk Like A Man, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and  Working My Way Back To You. I am 52 years old, so I was very young when their rise to fame occurred. Nonetheless,  I grew up with each of these songs in my head. It didn’t hurt watching the hit show Happy Days in the 70s. Basically, what  Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons produced were timeless and the appreciative Place des Arts audience ate every number up.


The lead cast members are Hayden Milanes (Frankie Valli), Nicolas Dromard (Tommy DeVito) and  Keith Hines (Nick Massi) and Toronto native Drew Seeley (Bob Gaudio) as The Four Seasons, with Barry Anderson (Bob Crewe) and Thomas Fiscella (Gyp DeCarlo). Ensemble members include Tommaso Antico, Jaycie Dotin, Marlana Dunn, De’Lon Grant, Wes Hart, Bryan Hindle, Austin Owen, John Rochette, Leslie Rochette, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Kara Tremel, Jonny Wexler and Keith White. I thought Milanes was excellent as the lead and the loud ovation he got from the audience seemed to confirm that thought. The story of the Four Seasons is not all sugar and spice and the musical pulls no punches.


Gaudio was a performing member between 1962 and 1972, after which he largely retired from stage work while continuing to write and arrange their songs and to produce and perform on their records.  He wrote the music for Jersey Boys
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The national tour of Jersey Boys opened in San Francisco on December 1, 2006. Eight years later it is still going strong in cities across North America and the United Kingdom.  The show is presently playing on a regular basis in New York, Las Vegas and London.


 “I grew up with these songs playing around the house,”   Seeley shared with me a few weeks ago. “My parents exposed me to all kinds of music early on. I never realized they we all  Four Seasons songs though. It’s incredible how many hits these guys had! There are 30-something in the show, and there is a slew more that they couldn’t even make time for. They need a ‘Jersey Boys 2 - The Musical.”


Seeley, who only joined the cast last fall, is pleased that the audience can count on lots of action on the stage. “It’s the kind of show where the audience is in it with us from the start,” he explains.  “People dance and sing in their seats, it’s a real concert. But that’s not to say there’s no story. I think what’s kept Jersey Boys going strong for 10 years now is the fact that the book is as strong as the music. It’s a well-rounded, awe-inspiring piece of theatre.”


Shows continue through Friday, January 9 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, January 10 at 2 p.m. and  8 p.m. and Sunday, January 11 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For more information on Jersey Boys, go to www.JerseyBoysTour.com,  www.placedesarts.com, www.evenko.ca or call 1-866-842-2112.  The show is two hours and 35 minutes. Tickets are priced   from $25 to $134 (taxes included). 


According to Nick Farkas at evenko,which brings us the big Broadway shows, we might not have another musical here in 2015, “but we have a lot in the pipeline foe 2016.”

Forever Plaid hits the Segal Centre February 1 to 22. The hallmark doo-wop musical will be showcased in a delightfully nostalgic and visually entertaining new production from the producers of Belles Soeurs: The Musical and Ain’t Misbehavin’ !   


Ezio Carosielli has more fun planned for his Rialto Theatre in 2015. “We just finished restoring the façade and have installed a breathtaking lighting system,” he tells me.   “For  upcoming events we have Gino Vannelli returning  April 17 amnd 18; The Edwards Twins on June 6,  and  a wonderful tribute to Frank Sinatra on June 20. We also  have our regular monthly dinner/show of PastaNapoli and PastaOpera. The chef is an opera singer so you eat between opera sets. It’s a must see.”

Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel will be at Place des Arts on September 1 as part of her North American  concert tour. I caught her solo show in Boston a few years ago and she really  blows the audience away with her energy, charisma and of course that unique singing voice. She is hot on the heels of a remarkable year that included performing the smash hit “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen at the 86th annual Academy Awards and her  triumphant return to Broadway in the musical If/Then,  Menzel was the voice of Elsa in   Frozen,  the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. Ruben Fogel is the local promoter.  For ticket info click here.


There is also plenty of community musical theatre to experience. I am hoping the evenko team surprises us with a few more musicals this year.

Monday, 29 December 2014

A toast to Nick Auf de Maur: Local content Montreal-based Quelque Show TV program revived on the net

When I was growing up our two local TV stations, CFCF (now CTV Montreal) and CBC, could always be counted on for some good local programming. Some of my favorites included Travel Travel, McGowan’s World and Fighting Back with Terry DiMonte. From 1970 to 1975 the late Nick Auf de Maur and Les Nirenberg brought us Quelque Show,  featuring on the street interviews and observations  on a wide range of subjects, from religion to pornography. Essentially, it provided a voice for a number of well-known Montreal street people.

Well, we now have four local English TV stations. CBC has  brought us Our Montreal, hosted by Sonali Karnick and essentially a compendium of news items which ran the previous week; City introduced a lifestyles show called Only In Montreal, only to cancel it after 30 episodes.; Global has Focus Montreal with Jamie Orchard, which runs three times each weekend and is quite good; CTV has nothing besides its highly rated newscasts.  CBC's suppertime news will be chopped from 90 to 30 minutes next fall while Global's newscasts remain status quo.

Global and City, of course, run morning news programs which deserve more viewers. On Saturdays, you catch the best of the Global morning news highlights. City also has a weekly sports show which has to be the most poorly promoted program I have ever seen. We do live in the age of the Internet, which opens the door to new opportunities. Enter  Paul Shore, who has created a reboot of Quelque Show online only at the moment and in both English and French.
Paul Shore

“It's my attempt to bridge the growing divide between everyday Montrealers and our political leaders, bringing back the speakers corner in a modern context,” explains Shore. “It's part soapbox and  part oral history.”

According to Shore, only three out of 100 Montrealers approached by his show said they had ever been asked for their opinion by a politician or a journalist. He describes Quelque Show as  a speaker’s corner for Montrealers, created in response to the growing divide between political leaders and the everyday citizen.

The show has been designed to be viewed in both French and English, first by audiences online, and eventually on television and in public spaces around Montreal.  "Political apathy, rooted in a sense of helplessness, has led to the everyday citizen's deep frustration over their perception that they are voiceless,” says Shore, the show’s co-host and creator. “By providing an interactive and non-threatening platform for people to express themselves, we’re hoping to stimulate the building of local community, even social change opportunities, in an innovative and meaningful way.” 

Shore, a veteran video-journalist and filmmaker is working alongside and co-host and former engineer, Rosalynn Nguyen.  In each episode they swiftly disarm interviewees, encouraging them to speak freely about controversial, even taboo issues.

Themes explored in the first series of episodes include immigration, integration, love, death, and public art. Montrealers are speaking up about sex, politics, language, multiculturalism, stereotyping and about how technology is affecting our relationships.

The original Quelque Show provided an unfiltered platform for Montrealers to express themselves on a variety of issues from pornography to religion. This new version brings back the town hall in a modern context. By providing a space for the sharing of personal experiences in a spontaneous way, Quelque Show is hoping to create a greater sense of community in our world of seemingly increased isolation caused by technology and the web.

“Quelque Show is indigenous to Montreal, but has been designed as a scaleable concept and platform, accessible to all other cities,” Shore says. "I am seeding the project now online,  but i will be working on TV deals in English and French in the new year, as well as hopefully a partnership with an ad agency to do co-branded content with their local clients. It's a transmedia show, and is clip driven and non linear,  so it has been designed to work on any platform imaginable such as  30 second  instagram episodes, one minute Facebook episodes, seven minute Youtube episodes, 22 minute TV episodes, and my holy grail having the show on interactive monitors in public spaces around the city."

Here is one of the segments.




Monday, 22 December 2014

Michel Boyer leaving CJAD for TV job in Edmonton

CJAD 800 News is losing one of its promising young reporters in Michel Boyer, who will embark upon a new career in television. He has been hired by Global Television in Edmonton.
Michel Boyer

"It's been a while in the works," Boyer shared with me. " I'll be flying to Edmonton and starting work on the fifth of January. It was  all very exciting."

Boyer did a little bit of everything in radio, starting off by doing traffic for  CJAD, Virgin Radio and CHOM, He got a chance to anchor and was excellent in the field  filing different reports. I had the pleasure of interacting with him often wearing my school board hat. He is a true professional and hopefully we will see him back here one day. 

"I'm really looking forward to this opportunity," said Boyer.

Since Boyer was a full-time staffer, it looks like a permanent spot has opened up on the CJAD news team roster.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Two pieces of bad news: CBC TV supper hour news slashed and Corbeil leaves CTV

As 2014 draws to a close, I was especially sad to hear two pieces of news regarding the local television scene:  the local CBC News is being cut back from 90 to 30 minutes and André Corbeil  is leaving CTV Montreal News.

The one thing you can always count on CBC for is inconsistency. That is what you get from a crown corporation which in my opinion should have been privatized years ago.  Beginning next fall,  regional supper-hour newscasts will be reduced in time. Some cities will see them go to 60 minutes. We are the losers, with 30. This goes along with CBC president and CEO Hubert T. Lacroix promised in June - that the broadcaster would be shifting its priorities from television and radio to digital and mobile services.  
It really is too bad. I have enjoyed the 90 minute format, which in Montreal resulted in three separate 30 minute newscasts beginning at 5 p.m. It's funny because when I do get home from work early I end up watching CBC live for parts of the first hour and then watching CTV and Global online. The Montreal team did a great job packaging a whole lot of information, complete with regular weather forecasts with Frank Cavallaro, a number of sportscasts with Douglas Gelevan and Andie Bennett, special features and a lot more. How will they squeeze the  toothpaste back in the tube? Will there still be live weather and sports?
As for Corbeil, CTV News has to make some cutbacks and his permanent post was
André Corbeil
slashed. He was invited to stick around to do weekend sportscasts, but he declined. Corbeil is talented, perfectly bilingual and a man with a lot of class. He should not have trouble finding work. He would certainly be an excellent addition to the staff of any local communications and marketing outfit. If Global TV or CIty wanted to add a permanent sports expert, he'd be a wise choice. I first met Corbeil early on in his arrival here. The Montreal Alouettes were visiting one of our schools, Dante in St. Léonard, for their off-season tour and I invited him to come cover it. 
"Bring your shorts and running shoes," I offered. "You can play for Dante when the Als take them on in basketball."
Corbeil accepted the challenge and played pretty well. Over the years he was always enthusiastic about covering school events. He was a regular guest at our Sports Celebrity Breakfast and made sure to get out there and cover the amateur sports scene, something which has been terribly neglected by our only English language daily.
While Paul Graif is the logical choice to handle the weekend duties, a role the K103 FM morning show co-host has fulfilled before, there will no doubt be others in the mix. Thankfully we still have such outstanding pros as Brian Wilde and Randy Tieman on board.