Saturday 16 March 2013

Local boy Elbaz in the MuchMusicVJ hunt

Côte Saint-Luc's Brandon Elbaz, an 18 year old graduate of Bialik High School and present-day Media Art Studies (Communications) student at John Abbott College in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, has cracked the coveted top 40 in the  MuchMusic Canada-wide VJ Search.
Brandon Elbaz

"My passion is being in front of the camera and producing music in my home studio," he shared with me. " I knew that this is what I wanted to do following my first class at The Montreal School of Performing Arts, which sparked passion and love for the creative arts. With thousands of submissions Canada wide, to be named within the top 40 contenders has been a dream come true."

Elbaz says he wants to thank everyone who has showered him with support and kindness by voting for him to  get  into the top 20. That is being done via now by going to this link and under Top 40 type in Brandon Elbaz. You can vote daily via Facebook. Let's help this charismatic son of Herzliah High School teacher Patrick Elbaz and dynamic businesswoman Brenda Laredo reach his dream. The top 20 will travel to seven major Canadian cities in a reality show format, interviewing and  reporting, as well as showing creativity and passion for music.  
Elbaz in action

"Growing up I was that kid who would engolf himself in the crazy world that is pop culture," he said. "While all my friends where playing video games 24/7,  I was downloading album after album, and spending endless hours on the internet and watching MuchMusic  discovering new artists and bands. Music and pop culture is my life and it will be in my life till the day I die. I was born to be on MuchMusic."  

You can vote once daily to support Brandon by going to this site, which is linked to one's  Facebook account.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Palace of the End: a standout Montreal play on Iraq

After writing some preview articles for The Suburban about  the Waterworks Company’s  production of Palace of the End, award-winning Canadian playwright Judith Thompson’s triptych ( a work of art broken into three parts) exploring the tragedy of the Iraq War, I was anxious to see a performance. I headed out to  Espace 4001, a cozy little theatre I have never experienced before, and left feeling quite affected by the stories.

The three actors do not interact at all on stage. Yet they enter the scene together, following a recorded announcement of former US President  George W. Bush declaring the coalition’s attack of Iraq.

Valassis, Findlay and Marchand.

In Palace of the End, Thompson   imagines the lost words and thoughts of three participants in the agony of modern Iraq.  Alexandra Valassis, as Nehrjas Al-Saffarh,  Sarah Marchand (prison guard Pvt. Lynndie England)  and Michael Findlay (Dr. David Kelly )  perform 30 minutes each of powerful monologues.        

The triptych opens with  My Pyramids,  \inspired by the freakish rise to fame of Abu Ghraib prison guard   England, who shot to fame when she took part in detainee abuse at  the Iraqi prison. She was sentenced to three years behind bars, chiefly for  taking  photos of naked detainees in degrading poses which went public. Marchand’s  presentation  is  hard hitting, pulls no punches and uses some of the foul language you would expect to come  out of the mouth of England. Why did England walk a prisoner around like a dog?  Because he called her a dog!

Harrowdown Hill featured the last testament of weapons inspector   Kelly   as he lies dying, after throwing away his career and reputation to warn the world that the case for war was a lie.  In 2003,   Kelly was   identified in newspapers as the man the government believed was the source for a controversial BBC report on Iraq which cast doubt on the government's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capable of being deployed within 45 minutes.After he was named in newspapers,   Kelly gave evidence to MPs' committees in which he said he did not believe he was the main source of the story. Two days after his testimony, he was found dead  near his home of an apparent suicide.  Findlay not only gives a remarkable performance, but after his character’s death he managed to lay still on the floor for a half hour.

Instruments of Yearning   sees the very talented Valassis really get deep into her role as  an Iraqi dissident and a survivor of Saddam’s prisons. As she loses her family one by one to the regime’s torturers and murderers, she hopes against hope that somewhere, sometime, some change will bring a better life to her country.   Valassis gets very very close to the seats in the audience and seems to be talking directly to each of them. Her accent is dead on and you really feel the pain for the character she plays, a woman who suffered unspeakable tragedy at the hands of Iraqi monsters before she herself dies – the victim of an American bomb.  I was exhausted watching her and when I met her after the show she looked pretty tired as well.

 Valassis confessed that this role has been a true challenge. “It was  a little intimidating,” she said. “I have been acting for 18 years and I never had to do a 30 minute monologue  before. I have really enjoyed working with the team though. I think audiences will find the play enjoyable to watch and very educational.”

The fact that this play comes on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by US and  British forces gives it even more punch. It’s a good time to repeat the message, 10 years on,” Directo Rob Langford maintains. " Over the past two months, Sarah, Michael, and Alexandra have worked like crazy, and they have created (or re-created) three fully-fleshed characters, all beautiful in their way, who display the best and worst in humanity. To me, this is acting for the theatre at its classic best, and I’m proud and humbled to have been able to work with them."
Palace of the End plays at  Espace 4001 ( 4001 Berri) for eight performances only until March 24:  Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Advance tickets are available online at and at the door (cash only). The Sunday matinee is a two for one  special  to encourage word-of-mouth. If you want to see some living history, then check this show out. Head there early like I did. There are several excellent restaurants just around the corner on Duluth.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

An extraordinary evening in the Habs press box

I had a nostalgic opportunity to watch the MontrealCanadiens-Ottawa Senators game from high above the Bell Centre ice in the press box on March 13. From the time I was a teenager I was covering most games at the old Montreal Forum for the  now defunct Sunday Express Newspaper and United Press International. This was my second year a row enjoying a game from the same vantage point, after a lengthy absence, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, from the incredible view, access to the dressing room  and the opportunity to network with and observe my colleagues from the media.
A view of the press box.

In the Jacques Beauchamp Press Room, General Manager Marc Bergevin was engaged in a friendly conversation with his Ottawa counterpart, Bryan Murray. One of my favorite former Canadiens, Peter Mahovlich, was there in his capacity as a scout for the Florida Panthers. He and his family still call Glens Falls, New York home, but he told me how he is constantly on the road. Yes, he agreed, the Panthers are having a tough season, but he still sees a bright future ahead for the franchise.

Andie  Bennett and Jess Rusnak
Mike Boone, who is now semi-retired, never got out of his seat as he blogged continuously for Hockey Inside Out. Former CTV Montreal sports director Ron Reusch still comes to every home game for his blog while the legendary Jim Bay is on hand as well. There are a number of female reporters in the press box – Jess Rusnak of TSN 690, Andie Bennett of CBC and Alyson Lozoff of Rogers Sportsnet.

CJAD’s Rick Moffat, who was great as the Habs play-by-play man, is busy tweeting and writing  reports all night. He gets home late and wakes up exceptionally early.  Brian Wilde has been covering the Habs for years for CTV Sports. What you do not see is how closely he follows the game and the extensive work he does in the dressing room to collect just the right clips and then prepare for a vibrant live report at 11:50 p.m.

The new head coach of the Montreal Impact, Marco Schallibaum, was a guest of the Habs and accompanied by team executive vice-president Richard Legendre.
A look at a faceoff from the press box.

It was a nice touch to bring UFC champion Georges St. Pierre on the ice before the game as the building exploded with applause, cheering him on for his title fight here on Saturday.

The Ottawa Sun Newspaper was represented by two of my old friends, Bruce Garrioch and Chris Stevenson. Chris is originally from LaSalle. Access their stories online and follow them on Twitter. I first met this duo  more than 25 years ago when I drove to Ottawa and freelanced for the then Ottawa Herald. Their careers have flourished since then.

There are a lot of media who cover the Canadiens. Communications chief Donald Beauchamp, with a stellar staff, which includes Dominick Saillant and Sylvie Lambert, do a masterful job in this department.

One of the unsung heroes of the Canadiens operation, Paul Gallant, was busy in his role of handling game day operations.

Habs Win

On to the game itself. It was a good one that is for sure, with plenty of end to end action and a lot of physical contact.  The Canadiens won 4-3 in a shootout. Almost immediately the media headed to a very large elevator, accompanied by the Ottawa GM who did not seem devastated by the loss.

Michel Therrien addresses media.
The media lined up outside the Habs dressing room in very significant numbers and once allowed in headed towards shootout scorers Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk. Josh Gorges, Brendan Gallagher, Josh Gorges, Gabriel Dumont and Cary Price also attracted a crowd. PK Subban was in the workout room. The Canadiens PR rep announced that PK had a very short period of time to talk before he had to return to the gym and the media complied. I had a chance to talk to Galchenyuk and Price, both of whom were polite and full of enthusiasm.

After getting their fill of quotes, the media moved to a room to await the appearance of head coach Michel Therrien. It was nice to see in person the extraordinary change in the head coach. Impeccably dressed, he is relaxed, full of good humour and excellent sound bites. He responded bilingually for about 10 minutes. Saillant then took over, announcing that defenceman Greg Pateryn had been returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs and the next practice time.

What can one say about this abbreviated NHL season for the Habs.  Bergevin looks like a genius for hiring Therrien and making some of the key roster moves he did. Hockey fever is back big time in this city and folks are dreaming about a Stanley Cup. 

TSN 690 Post Game Show

Before leaving the Bell Centre I sat in on the TSN 690 post game show, co-hosted by the dynamic duo of Tony Marinaro and Conor McKenna. I must thank Tony for playing a critical role in bringing my Twitter followers above the magic 1,000 plateau. He promised me a few weeks ago when I appeared on his Montreal Forum program that he would make it happen and wouldn’t you know it, my lone press box appearance of the year turned out to be the big night.
Conor McKenna on the air

Please follow me @mikecohencsl. I will never catch up to his nearly 21,000, but I am happy to reach this total.

Tony Marinaro responds to Conor.
Conor and Tony have good chemistry and do a great recap, preceded by the old pro himself Mitch Melnick. For any Habs fan, it is an education in hockey to listen to what they have to say. Seated in their press box section way above the visiting net, Conor and Tony are relaxed and use very little, if any, notes. They feverishly check their Tweets, which is the main way they communicate with listeners.

Please make sure to read my columns in the March 20 editions of The Suburban for some stories on topics related to the Habs that you have not seen anywhere else this year.

Go Habs Go!

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Chris Nilan to host afternoon show on TSN 690

An announcement was made today that former Montreal Canadiens enforcer Chris "Knuckles" Nilan will succeed Randy Tieman as the co-host of the Montreal Forum with Tony Marinaro weekdays from Noon to 1 p.m. and the host of his own program from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on TSN 690 Radio. He will debut on March 18.
Chris Nilan

Two years ago I sat down with Nilan at a downtown hotel. He was in town for an alumni event and shared with me his desire to move here full-time and pursue a career in broadcasting. Earlier that NHL season, CJAD had given him a role on their broadcasts. By this time, Mitch Melnick had made Nilan a regular on his drive home show on  TSN 690 (then called THE TEAM 990).

I invited Chris to a high school, reasoning that as an enforcer he had basically stuck up for his teammates and basically taken care of bullies. I would like to think this played an inspirational role in him becoming a well known anti-bullying advocate. For the past two years he has been a fixture in local elementary and high schools. In the meantime Melnick found a regular slot for Nilan on his show. This year he became part of the Canadiens broadcast team, with his In The Box segment. After some hard times, Nilan has really turned his life around. This opportunity to have his own radio show represents perhaps the completion of the mission he set out for when I met with him two years ago.

Tony Marinaro

Nilan and his girlfriend bought a home in Dorval. He continues to play for the alumni team and played a central role in the much talked about documentary The Last Gladiators.  In the film, Academy Award winning Director Alex Gibney takes an unprecedented look at NHL's most feared enforcers and explores the career o Nilan. The role was simple: protect their teammates no matter the cost. For Chris this meant a shattered body, addiction to drugs, and harming the people closest to him. But in the process, he won the love of hockey’s holy city, Montreal, and helped the team win the Stanley Cup. Through interviews with hockey’s toughest guys, the film explores what it means to enforce the unspoken code of the NHL The DVD is now available and I plan to sit down with Chris soon to talk about it.

In the meantime, to all of those fans out there who loved watching Chris Nilan (he remains my brother Chuck's all-time idol), what wonderful news this is. Now all we need to see happen is for the CRTC to approve the proposal by Bell Media to keep TSN 690 in operation if and when the three local English Astral Radio stations (CJAD, Virgin Radio and CHOM) come under their watch.

Picked up in passing while at Trudeau Airport

 I just returned from a week in South Florida, flying in and out of our growing airport. No, I am not talking about Mirabel. Here are a few notes:

TRUDEAU AIRPORT DELAYS: If you are flying out of here, the U.S. budget situation is limiting the number of customs officers present at Montréal–Trudeau airport. Aéroports de Montréal is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the airlines to minimize the impacts of this situation for travellers. However, wait times could be longer than usual.

WHAT’S NEW: Trudeau Airport continues to expand. New boarding lounges are now available, if required for international flights, and particularly for Sun destination service. Located at the far end of the existing international jetty, these new departure lounges are the first phase of a major expansion project estimated to cost $270 million. With seating capacity for 420—the equivalent of two normal boarding lounges—the new Gate 62 is equipped with a new bridge designed to handle three passenger transfer vehicles at once to transport passengers to aircraft parked at remote stands. Phase II of the international jetty expansion project, which will get underway in 2014, will add a total of six new contact gates for wide-body jets (including two for A-380s), as well as a bus station.

Scheduled for completion in September 2016, this additional section will include, among others, a vast 1,450-square-meter commercial area that will feature stylish lounges, shops, bars and restaurants. These facilities will confirm Montréal–Trudeau’s status as a world-class airport.

“September 2016 is an important date for Aéroports de Montréal because we will be playing host to the Airports Council International (ACI) World and ACI North America annual conference, which will be held at the Palais des congrès de Montréal,” Mr. Cherry noted. “More than 2,000 participants from around the world are expected to attend this prestigious event, and we are planning to take advantage of this opportunity to showcase our expertise in airport operation and development.”

The extension of the international jetty is being accompanied by major landscaping and concreting work to expand the west apron and develop aircraft parking stands. This site, covering an area of 137,000 square metres (approximately the size of twenty soccer fields) will be completed in 2013. In preparation for the work, hangars and warehouses along Stuart Graham Boulevard also had to be demolished and relocated.

Other improvements are under way or planned for the coming years with the aim of adapting the capacity of airport facilities to demand that is growing by an average of two to three percent annually over the long term. The Corporation’s capital investment program for the 2013–2017 period totals $1 billion.  

AIRPORT PARKING: I have always been among those people who prefer to take his own car to Trudeau International Airport in Dorval rather than cabbing it back and forth.  The problem is the daily unaffordable price the airport charges. Enter the Sheraton Airport Montreal Hotel, which has convenient park and stay packages. Here you can relax in their newly renovated guest rooms and avoid the expense of airport parking. Spend the night (for as little as $144) with them before your trip, then park for up to eight, 15 or 22 days at no additional cost. You can book online ( or by calling 866-716-8101      end_of_the_skype_highlighting and mentioning promo code SDQ.  If you just want to leave you vehicle there, minus the hotel stay, the cost is only $12.50 per night (taxes included). This is absolutely a better value and also includes superior security with gates and cameras, a price lower than the $18 to $23 range at the airport and a complimentary shuttle which runs every 15 minutes.

The hotel is excited to be part of the global launch of Sheraton Social Hour, a first-of-its-kind, brand-wide premium wine program. The new program offers guests a specially curated menu of premium wines and weekly tasting events at more than 240 participating Sheraton hotels around the world. In North America, the program will feature 90+ rated wines by Wine Spectator served in Riedel stemware to ensure that each varietal is presented in the perfect stemware that artfully enhances the wine’s flavor and aroma. You can read more about it here.