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, 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   

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

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,, 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.