Friday 6 February 2015

Forever Plaid musical at the Segal Centre is an extraordinary production

The Segal Centre for Performing Arts in Montreal has developed a well earned reputation for presenting top-notch musicals. Last fall  prominent producer Allan Sandler and his company, Copa de Oro Productions  co-produced the absolutely spectacular  of Les Belles Soeurs the Musical. It was such a gigantic success, a Canadian tour is being mounted for 2016.  Now they have brought us Forever Plaid, the hallmark doo-wop musical, which plays the Segal through Feb. 22 with an extension very likely.

I attended the premiere and let me just say that this was the type of quality production one could expect to see at the Place des Arts. It is no wonder that Sandler already has it booked at the prestigious Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto beginning next September.   While I enjoyed Book of Mormon and Jersey Boys, I must say I rank Forever Plaid at the same level entertainment-wise.

Forever Plaid is a lighthearted musical homage to the golden age of close harmony groups, told through the deliciously goofy story of a 1950s all-male singing group, “The Plaids.” Killed in a car crash on their way to their first big concert (cleverly depicted via a big screen cartoon), the quartet of high-school singers - Jinx, Smudge, Sparky and Frankie- are miraculously revived to get one final chance at musical glory and perform the show that never was.  Stars Chris Barillaro, Gab Desmond, Michael Daniel Murphy and Jonathan Patterson are beyond superb in their roles. They can sing, dance and dish out pure comedy. I’d go see it again just to experience the brilliant three minute and 11 second spoof on a typical series of skits from the legendary Ed Sullivan Show. 

Patterson, Desmond, Barillaro and Murphy

There is a big team behind this production, with Sandler`s eldest son Sean steering the ship and the revered Roger Peace in the director`s chair. The 79 year old actually has the distinction of having appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

“If I had to use one word to describe this show it would simply be ‘fun,’” said Sean Sandler, who was warmly saluted by his dad during a post-show presentation. “There is a good reason why Plaid has captured the hearts of audiences for decades. Forever Plaid is a musical that manages to be modern and nostalgic at the same time.

Says Allan Sandler: “We have made a few changes to the show. But it really is the same shtick. I am approaching the end of my career now and I wanted to do a few more of my own musicals. The Belles Soeurs took me five years to get on stage and now it’s Forever Plaid. I was deathly ill not too long ago. I almost did not make it. Somehow I was able to beat this and come back.”

Sandler believes audiences will eat up Forever Plaid (I agree), specifically its medley of 1950s pop hits played in perfect harmony as the quartet bob-shoo-bops their way to fame. This 1990 musical creation was inspired by such iconic vocal formations as The Four Aces, The Four Lads, The Hi-Lo’s and The Crew Cuts.

Forever Plaid was born as an off-Broadway musical revue in 1990. It played The Centaur twice in the 1990s and there was a motion picture version in 2009.

Some of the songs audiences can look forward to are Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Three  Coins in the Fountain and Moments to Remember?  The performance of Matilda is lots of fun and by the time the finale rolls around the entire audience is up on its feet moving to the beat.

Of course presenting this show at the Segal Centre promises everyone who attends the best seat in the house.

Tickets are $32 to $64. Call 514-739-7944 or visit It runs 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Georges Laraque set to return as a pro hockey player in Norway; joins Nilan & Heppell in Anti-Violence Against Women Campaign

Georges Laraque has adapted nicely to life after professional hockey. The former NHL enforcer concluded his NHL career with the Canadiens during the 2009-2010 season and immediately threw himself into community action. At the time his native Haiti was in tatters due to the earthquake which battered the country and he launched a campaign to build a new hospital – something he succeeded in doing.

Georges Laraque
As a vegan, Laraque advocated for animal rights. He was drafted by the Federal Green Party and became deputy leader. The Mira Foundation, which provides guide dogs to the visually impaired signed him up as a spokesperson.  Besides becoming a regular interview on sports talk shows, he also took up acting and had roles in CBC’s Battle of the Blades, Haiti Untold, the motion picture Goon and the Super Channel comedy series Tiny Plastic Men. Filmed in Edmonton, where he spends half the year to be with his children, the sitcoms focuses on a company that makes everything from video to board games and the bizarre people who walk through their doors. Laraque portrays a gay football player named Gaston Laboeuf. “It is my way to speak out against homophobia,” he told me.

Laraque’s latest feat is a professional hockey comeback. He has signed a contract with Fana IHK of the Norwegian Second Division. He has been training for a month and must report for duty March 1. “I will be there for the final two games of their regular season and then the playoffs,” he says. “The GM called and asked. I am a man of challenges. I like new things. And there is no fighting allowed there.”

When Laraque was released by the Canadiens he still had hopes of being picked up by another team. But in 2010 his back had given out and he formally retired. “After I retired my herniated disc gradually got reabsorbed in my system and  I was able to skate, run marathons and take a pounding,” he says. “I do not know how it will feel in Norway. Sure there is no fighting, but it is still physical play and I am pretty sure that since I played in the NHL I might be a target.”

The latest cause to garner Laraque’s attention is the Shield of Athena and its Say No to Violence against Women Campaign. He was on hand February 3 at the Cinémas Guzzo Marché Central location where he was introduced along with former Hab Chris Nilan and former Alouette Bruno Heppell as a spokesman for the campaign.  English and French videos, produced by Co-Pilot Productions and Global TV Quebec, will be shown on all Guzzo screens. They show Laraque, Nilan and Heppell outfitted in white t-shirts and serious looks on their faces. With some catchy music, we first see Heppell on the screen, then the palm of Laraque’s hand and the word “Never” written with a felt pen. Next comes Nilan’s hand and the word “Ever,” inscribed followed by Heppell again who declares: “Never ever hit a woman!”  Nilan then declares: “Just say no,” We then hear the trio conclude “…to violence against women!”

“Athletes are regarded as role models for young people,” commented Melpa Kamateros, the executive director of  the Shield of Athena Family Services (SOAFS). “What they say does make a difference. It is also an extension of including more men in such campaigns as violence against women is everybody’s business.”
Left to right: Chris Nilan, Melpa Kamateros, Nadia Saputo, Vince Guzzo and Georges Laraque.
Nilan, who moved to Montreal full-time a few years ago and hosts his own early afternoon talk show on TSN 690, feels very strongly about the cause. “There is no place for conjugal violence in our society and I have zero tolerance for anyone who is violent against their partner,” he said. “I came up with the slogan ‘Never Ever,’ because that is how I feel about this issue. I think when an athlete talks, people listen. People who chose to lay their hands on women and children have no place in our society.”

Added Laraque: “When I see that figure of 17,000, I find it totally unacceptable. A real man should respect women.”

Heppell confided that he has a sister who was a victim of conjugal violence, so the issue is really close to home. “This year’s case of conjugal violence in the NFL shows us the severity of this problem and that it touches us all,” he says. “We have all come in contact with a victim in some way or another in our lives and so we do not need to be afraid to talk about it. We need to take action.”

Campaign supporter Nadia Saputo thanked Vince Guzzo for stepping forward to show the public service announcements.  The highly successful movie theatre mogul believes he has a captive audience. He hopes that the videos will have an impact on the young people in the audience in particular. “It is at the youngest age possible that we need to show our youth that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable and its during their first dates that respect for girls must be established,

Kamateros said there are 17,000 cases of conjugal violence each year in Quebec. Founded in 1991, the Shield of Athena Family Services is a non-profit community organization with a network of services that includes Montreal and Laval offices, an emergency shelter (Athena’s house), and a community outreach department. Services and information are available in up to 17 different languages. 

The Laval Police were represented by Lieutenant Ana Isabel Rodriques.

For information about Shield of Athena, call    514-274-8117 or 450-688-7584  or log on to