Thursday 26 March 2015

Cheryl Besner and CJAD dive into a whole different kind of "singles" show

You must hand it to CJAD program director Chris Bury. He continues to add unique and interesting programs to the weekend lineup. On the Record with Jason Rockman, where the host interviews noted personalities about their careers and then plays some of their favorite songs, is solid. Now comes Solo in the City with Montreal-based dating coach and event planner Cheryl Besner on Saturday evenings at 10 p.m.
Cheryl Besner

When I last interviewed Cheryl more than two years ago she was launching a high profile blog called 365 Days to Find Love, which  chronicled her journey in the hopes of connecting, inspiring, and educating single women everywhere.The online journal of her then newly single life developed a nice  following, focusing on women over 40 who were remerging in the dating scene. She  shared advice from international matchmakers, explored various Internet dating services, and developed some of her own ways to discover serendipitous encounters at places like the gym or grocery store.  She introduced readers to other searchers of love: the cynics, the starry-eyed and the star crossed, and the men she met. Although she only got involved in a committed relationship recently, her 365 day experience which started on Valentine’s Day in 2013 was a great experience.

“I learned a lot about myself,” Cheryl now admits. “I did have a few relationships, but because of what I was doing this became a bit of a catch 22 situation. A lot of the men were worried I would blog about them. I did, but I never mentioned names. I merely described the type of people they were.”

Cheryl, a mom of three,  says the one thing that stood out from the experience was her desire to step up and assist all of the single people out there spending most of their time at home alone. “I realized that nobody was really putting this topic under one umbrella,” she notes. “I went to a conference in Los Angeles and from there I went to New York and got my coaching certification in dating.”

It was soon after that Cheryl coined the term Solo in the City. “I wanted to help people find a place to go,” she explained. “One of my messages to singles was that you are not going to meet someone by staying home. Go to a restaurant, an event or a library. Odds are you will meet someone and start  a discussion. Everyone loved Solo in the City term because it is non-threatening and non-invasive.”

Enter the new CJAD show, which made its debut on March 21. It is her hope that the multiplatform show will actually get singles out from behind their computers and into the urban dating jungle with ease. 

“Connecting people is something I have always done naturally throughout my career, so why not apply my skills to the most important connections of all?” Cheryl  said. “I’ve finally found the networking niche I truly adore. What can be better than helping people find love connections?”

The show takes a multifaceted approach to meeting new friends and potential partners. She aims to take the pressure out of awkward blind dates or superficial online chatting by simply connecting Montrealers on a human level first, through events or designated meetup locations across the city. Encouraging singles to be, above all, sociable will maximize their chances of making new friends and eventually finding love.

 “Very few people find love at first sight, or first swipe on Tinder,” added Cheryl, touted by her publicist as a fixture of Westmount’s social scene who has created exclusive events like The Angel Ball benefiting the Jewish General Hospital, thrown dinner parties for Dom Pérignon and hosted elite soirees for celebrities like Mia Farrow and Sir Richard Branson. “Let’s take the pressure down a notch and just get people talking! Maybe the person next to you at a Solo event won’t be the one, but knows a friend who could be. If you can’t be a little sociable and comfortable in your own skin, it will be that much harder to find love.” 

Check out the all-new website,,   featuring event listings, blogs and content geared toward Montrealers looking for love. A parallel Solo in the City dating site has also been launched with  the theme: Coffee, tea and we -  meet local singles at designated spots in town for a low-pressure cup of coffee!

If you cannot catch the show live, you can access the podcast anytime at

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Segal Centre for Performing Arts unveils blockbuster 2015-16 season schedule

While the Segal Centre for Performing Arts has not yet completed its present season, Artistic and Executive Director Lisa Rubin opened the curtain for the media and the VIP crowd on March 25 for what’s in store in 2015-2016.

It has been a great year for the Segal so far on stage, highlighted by blockbusters Les Belles Soeurs and Forever Plaid. Still to come, of course, Mordecai Richler’s landmark coming of age novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz will  be getting the all-star musical treatment in a world premiere musical adaptation   from June 7  to 28.   Duddy Kravitz has an original score by Alan Menken, the Tony- and Oscar-winning composer of Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and The Little Shop of Horrors. The legendary composer is responsible for some of the most beloved songs and musical scores of our time. But here is our first look at next year and what a lineup it is, with no less than seven  spectacular Montreal premieres .

Funny Girl,  the poignant musical rags to riches story of Vaudeville sensation Fanny Brice made famous by Barbra Streisand in film, will kick off the new season (October 11 to November 1, 2015) in an 18-person song and dance spectacular under the direction of  Peter Hinton. Multi-talented Canadian musical performer Gabi Epstein will hold down the  titular role immortalized by Streisand in the classic 1968 movie.

“I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world,” Epstein actually sang out in a video message recorded from Toronto where she is performing for Mirvish Entertainment.

Next up  (November 29 to  December 20, 2015) will be British playwright Nina Raine’s internationally-acclaimed play Tribes, a powerful look at the meaning of language, love and what it means to be understood. Jack Volpe (Seeing Voices Montreal) makes his professional theatre debut as Billy, the only deaf member of an eccentric, intellectual family.  Volpe, who works by day at the Mackay Centre School in NDG, is deaf. He attended the press conference and delivered words of appreciation for getting the role via  sign language interpreter.

Jack Volpe at the press conference

 “When Jack completed his audition, the electricity in the building was palpable,” said Rubin. “This show will be done with American Sign Language. We are very excited to see how the deaf community can be involved and see what the story can bring to them.”

From January 31 to February 21, 2016, The Secret Annex will invite audiences  to use their
imaginations of what life would have been like for beloved historical icon Anne Frank, had she survived the war. In what is being described as “a stirring and romantic new play out of Winnipeg by young playwright Alix Sobler and directed by Marcia Kash,”  Sara Farb will take on the lead role. She will soon be starring in the Stratford Festival’s Diary of Anne Frank. In Montreal she will portray the same title character as a 25-year old coming of age in New York City. Farb expressed her joy with the role via a video message. “Doing the Secret Annex is something I am really excited about,” she said.

Gemini and Dora Award-winning performer Rick Miller (MacHomer, Venus in Fur) will explode  on to the Segal stage (March 20 to April 10, 2016) with his newest one-man, tour-de-force Boom. This Kdoons & Wyrd production will be co-presented by Copa de Oro Productions, the folks behind Les Belles Soeurs and Forever Plaid. Part explosive performance, part riveting documentary, and part nostalgic trip, Boom is expected to capture the defining historical and musical moments of the baby-boom generation. 
In what promises to be a comedic highlight of the season (May 1 to 22, 2016), Joshua Harmon’s breakout hit Bad Jew will  ask the biting question: what do you choose to believe, when you’re chosen?  It will focus on three cousins gathered in a cramped Manhattan apartment to mourn the death of their grandfather and fight over a precious family heirloom. Rubin herself will direct this  critically-acclaimed exploration of faith, family and legacy that has had North America abuzz since its Off-Broadway premiere in 2013. “I always thought my directorial debut would have been a musical,” said Rubin, whose golden pipes blew away many an audience during her performing career.

Also co-produced with Copa de Oro, will be a new production of Tony Award-winner Joe DiPietro’s laugh-out-loud musical comedy  I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (May 8 to 29, 2016), directed by Wade Lynch. Witty and whimsical, this incredibly popular Off-Broadway musical sensation deftly lampoons the stages and stumbling blocks of romantic relationships.
Lisa Rubin, Anisa Cameron, Aron Gonshor, Anthony Housefather, Mitchell Brownstein and myself.
The lights of Broadway will also shine brightly on the explosive final production of the season,  the world Yiddish-language premiere of Mel Brooks’ record-breaking musical The Producers, winner of twelve Tony Awards. The hysterically-funny tale of scheming showbiz producers Bialystock and Bloom will be revived in Yiddish by the esteemed Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (June  19 to July 10, 2016).  The company is proud to be associated with the Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society and director Anisa Cameron for their most ambitious production to date. “Mel Brooks is on Twitter so we will all be harassing him to come to this show,” says Rubin.

A very proud Mitchell Brownstein, my colleague on Côte Saint-Luc City Council who created the Dramatic Society with Cameron from scratch only three years ago, was pinching himself. Ditto for Mayor Anthony Housefather, whom by the time this show hits the stage hopes to be the Liberal Member of Parliament for Mount Royal.

Beyond the stage the Segal will  welcome Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre film series. 
Audience Engagement plays a vital role in the Segal Centre’s mission. To complement the productions being presented on stage, the Segal offers the ever-popular Sunday @ The Segal pre-show lecture series, an opportunity to explore the history, themes and ideas behind each production, and Monday Night Talk backs a post-show chat with the creators of the play.

New next season, as part of the Segal’s Beyond the Stage programming, will be Shakespeare`s Globe on Screen film series, presenting critically-acclaimed performances from Shakespeare’s home, London’s World Famous Globe Theatre. Screenings will take place in the intimate 77-seat CinemaSpace and be preceded by a pre-show discussion hosted by Repercussion Theatre, Montreal’s home for Shakespeare in the Park. Official programming to be announced soon.

Finally, the Segal continues to be an artistic resource and hub for Montreal’s independent, emerging and community artists and organizations to play, explore and grow. Next year they will  welcome  back such diverse guest theatre companies as Teesri Duniya Theatre (State of Denial by Rahul Varma: October 8-25), Tableau D’Hôte Theatre (Angélique by Lorena Gale: November 30 – December 13), Youtheatre (Dreaming Now: January 11-15, 2016 & P@ndora: February 2-5, 2016) and Les Productions Pas de Panique (Le Visiteur by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, in French, March 20 – April 3, 2016).

Six-time Grammy nominated American jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton will launch the Segal’s Power Jazz   music Series in October. The eighth season, always as rich and diverse, also features the Jason Rosenblatt Quartet, Laila Biali, Piano Chameleons (John Roney & Matt Herskowitz) and a concert in partnership with the Consulate General of Israel.

Also as part of the Segal’s additional programming: Broadway Café, an intimate open mic night for musical theatre aficionados to sing or simply enjoy their favourite showtunes; the Segal’s own performing arts Academy. with unique after-school courses for aspiring performers running from October to May, and many more guest events with such valued community partners as the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, the Hebrew Theatre of the Jewish Public Library and The Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Québec (CSUQ).

Segal subscribers enjoy world-class theatre plus many outstanding benefits, including free indoor parking, up to 30 percent off ticket prices, free ticket exchange and exclusive savings.

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Monday 23 March 2015

Edgy Montreal-made TV drama 19-2 comes to emotional concluding season 2 finale

When I interviewed actor Conrad Pla  in January before this second season of BRAVO TV's edgy police drama 19-2 began to air he warned me that I would not believe where the storyline would take different characters. He could not have been more correct. Spoiler alert for those who did not yet see the season finale on March 23 or the series at all. Go to Crave TV and catch up and what you missed.

During the first season and the first eight episodes of season two Pla, as Sergeant Julien Houle, came across as a likeable and trustworthy character. He was the one keeping the officers in order, giving briefings and determining who teamed with whom. The series of courses focuses on squad car 19-2 of the Montreal Police and officers  Nick Barron (Adrian Holmes) and Ben Chartier (Jared Keeso). From the get go Chartier arrived on the scene he was working undercover for the Quebec Provincial Police, trying to uncover a "mole" at the station. Barron was the prime suspect, up until episode eight when in a shocking turn of events Houle was fingered as the double crosser. Adding to the darkness of the plot, Houle was exposed as a pedophile who was clearly being blackmailed to rat on his fellow officers in order to keep his dirty little secret safe.
The season finale was not kind to the character of Brouillard (left) and Houle.

A credit to the producers. The "pedophile" sequences were all done in very good taste given the disturbing subject matter. When Houle goes to a hotel and has no more than 12 year old prostitute join him he refuses to touch her and flees the scene. At the conclusion of the finale he calls Barron and Chartier to a remote location, hoping they will shoot him.. "I am a cop!" he shouts, explaining why he could never face prison. Barron refuses to his dirty work and the last scene Pla turns the gun on himself.

As an actor, this may of been Pla's finest moment. I am sorry that the producers chose to make him the mole for we won't see him again on this fine drama.  I spoke to Pla today about this challenging storyline.

"I knew from the French version of the 19-2 series that Houle was the mole and a pedophile," Pla said. "I asked the director if that would be the same for our series. They said maybe not.  When we started shooting season two, they still had not decided. Then about six episodes in they gave me the news. I was reluctant and told myself 'No way I can do this.' They assured there would be nothing graphic. It was amazing for me to have a regular role in a Montreal shot program. That is over now. There is nothing I can do about it. I guess it is better to go out with a bang."

One of the messages Pla feels viewers can gain from his storyline is this: "A lot of times sexual molesters turn out to be the most unsuspecting persons."

Pla is the father of four, aged two, 13, 14 and 21. "I asked the three eldest not to watch the last two episodes," he says. "I told them there was some disturbing stuff and they respected that. As an actor it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. On the show ReGenesis my character was gay and I had to have intimate scenes with another man. This was harder because there is nothing morally wrong with homosexuality."
Barron (left) and Holmes make a good team in squad car 19-2.
The season began with a violent school shooting in which Barron and Holmes became the heroes and brough down the perpetrator. It was an all too familiar scenario for Montrealers who have had to witness shootings at École Polytechnique, Concordia and Dawson. We then watched Barron hang out with his crooked cousin Kaz. The station 19 commander Marcel Gendron (Bruce Ramsay) dealt with his troubled daughter, whom we later learn was one of the victims of Houle. Officer J.M. Brouillard (Dan Petronijevic), shown as a wife abuser during the first season, seemed to have his act together. In the finale he beats his wife to a pulp and is later pounded into submission by Barron. We thought Officer Tyler Joseph (Benz Antoine) had his drinking problem under control. Clearly not we see in the season finale. Officer Beatrice Hamelin  (Mylène Dinh-Robic) has some very torrid sex scenes with her ex-girlfiend on the steps near Place des Arts.  Audrey Pouliot (Laurence Leboeuf) is still very much traumatized by being attacked last season.She loses her cool on the job often and this is picked up on YouTube.  Rookie Vince Legare (Tyler Hynes) has sex in a washroom with a woman whose purse he has reclaimed. She becomes a fatal attraction and with Brouillard double crossing him ends up losing his job.

I am fortunate to have known Pla, a former professional kickboxer, for many years. On the eve of the season premiere I got to interview Holmes and Keeso, friends in real life. They reside in Vancouver and love our city. They are superb actors whom I had zero trouble seeing as real police officers.

A shout out to noted Montreal publicist Janis Kirshner, who had a small role in the season finale as the daughter of a senior citizen who fell on hard times.

What a season! I certainly hope that the people at Bell Media bring it back, complete with the replica Montreal Police uniforms and vehicles.  I can tell from the people I meet who have followed my blogs and stories in The Suburban that they have followed the series religiously and become hooked, something which is pretty easy to do.