Wednesday 8 April 2015

Vittorio Rossi's The Envelope lights up the Centaur with stellar cast and storyline

 A few months ago I met noted Montreal playwright Vittorio Rossi for the first time when I invited him back to speak at his old high school, James Lyng in St. Henri. He is a wonderful role model and provided the present-day students with a lot of inspiration, so much so that a Grade 11 English class joined me at the Centaur Theatre for an April 8 matinee to see the new Rossi comedy-drama called The Envelope.

There were also students on hand from FACE School and a private French school. How would they relate to a play focused on the complex Canadian film industry? The Envelope is a fabulous piece of work and judging by their laughs and the standing ovation at the end, it is clear the students really appreciated it. Teachers I spoke to gave it a big thumbs up,

The storyline revolves around some excited actors and two producers gathered in a local Italian restaurant meant to clone  Da Franco’s, which is located just around the corner from the Centaur in Old Montreal. Kudos to set and costume design boss Evita Karasek for creating a true replica of the real restaurant. From the bar to the tables and even the front door, it is bang on as lead characters Michael  Moretti (Ron Lea) and Jake Henry Smith (David Gow) engage in a hard-nosed negotiation for the film rights to the former’s new play. Moretti finds himself torn between  an L.A. indie filmmaker with little cash to spare and Smith dangling a tempting multi-million dollar “envelope” from the Canadian Federal Film Fund.  Does he choose ambition over loyalty and money over art?   One thing for sure – this play does not paint a flattering picture of the Canadian film industry.
The cast of  The Envelope in a scene at Da Franco's (photo A. Lanthier)
During the audience talkback after the show I asked the performers if a movie version of The Envelope was possible.  “That has already been put in motion,” said Lea.

Tony Calabretta is superb as Franco, the wise-cracking Italian restaurateur whose cousin the actor, Marcello, is played by actor/stand-up comedian, Guido Cocomello. Shawn Campbell plays Andrew, a character actor who has weathered many an opening night jitter, and no film story would be complete without an ingénue poised for her big break and Mélanie Sirois, as the bright-eyed Caroline, makes her Centaur debut. Leni Parker, 2014 META-winner for Best Actress plays Sarah, the Canadian National Movie Fund’s head of script development in the midst of a career crisis.

This small cast has excellent chemistry. While there is a fair amount of profanity in the script, it all falls out in a very realistic fashion. When anger sets in, I suppose there is no reason to pretend these people would be reciting niceties. None of the students seemed turned off by it, nor were the teachers particularly concerned.

Says the Moretti Character:  “There are two things I detest in this country. […] One is winter.
The other is a Canadian film producer. I’ve learned to cope with winter but I will never trust a Canadian film producer.”

The Centaur’s Artistic and Executive Director, Roy Surette, had this to say:“Vittorio captures this city and its people so beautifully. Audiences will definitely recognize a theatre located in Old Montreal around the corner from a family-owned Italian restaurant and get a kick out of the behind-the-scenes take on getting a play to opening night … a font of entertaining material there! But the main attraction is the inside scoop at how Canadian films are produced. Ambition, back room deals, egos and eccentric characters abound amid the lure of big money versus creative integrity. Who could resist such tantalizing theatrical treats?”

Rossi, an advocate of ‘write what you know’, drew heavily from his own experiences for the script. “On five different occasions I was approached to either write a screenplay or adapt one of my own plays,” he says. “Each and every time the projects got lost in ‘development hell.’ With these producers, never once did I feel like I was working with a creative partner. But as a result of all this, I raised the money, shot my film in five days, and gained a whole new skill set. It was a great learning experience and immensely gratifying.”

The show runs through April 19 (Mondays are dark). If you are looking for some great entertainment and a refreshing piece of theatre then log on to or call  (514) 288-3161. Check out the video preview here.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

With Ted Bird and Tasso Patsikakis on board Hudson/St. Lazare's the Jewel FM is already a hit!

Editor's Note: Due to technical difficulties The Jewel programming, including the debut of Tasso, has been delayed until April 9.l

You must hand it to the folks behind The Jewel RadioNetwork. Part of the Evanov Radio Group, there are presently eight Jewel stations across the country and the latest has landed at 106.7 FM and serving Hudson and St. Lazare.  Now this is quite extraordinary for two small towns on the outskirts of Montreal’s West Island  having their very own radio station.

Ted Silver, who once upon a time ran Q92  (now  The Beat 92.5 FM), is the program director for this newest entity along with Jewel sister stations in Ottawa, Rockland and Hawkesbury and the man has clearly not lost his golden touch. Not only did he sign the
Ted Bird
legendary Ted Bird as morning show host (5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.), but beginning April 8 Paul “Tasso Patsikakis” Zakaib makes his return to the airwaves as the host of his own 10 a.m. to Noon show. That is followed by the syndicated John Tesh Show.  Bob Coley steps in from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. with a  local drive home show.  Then comes a program called The Lounge.

Silver notes that the Jewel features an adult contemporary variety format featuring the best of yesterday and today. He calls it  easy listening, light and refreshing.”   The target market is Hudson, St. Lazare, Vaudreuil and most of the West Island. Evanov operates two other licences in Quebec: CHRF-AM, Radio Fierté, the world's only French language commercial radio service dedicated to Montreal's large and diverse LGBT community; and   CFMB AM, the city’s only multi-ethnic broadcaster.

I have already made a habit of tuning into Bird via my computer in the office weekday
mornings. One never gets tired of his great sense of humour. Now we can look forward to Tasso and his zany cast of characters, from Jacques Parizeau to Jean Chretien. Sure I’d
love to have him back on the air with Aaron Rand, but that is not in the cards for now. “We had talked to Tasso about doing our morning show,” Silver said. “In the end of course we went with Ted, but I am really happy to bring him aboard. We worked together at Q92. He will be entertaining. That is for sure.”
Ted Silver and Tasso

I reached Tasso and he is quite excited about the new venture.

"I'm going to try to do a little of the old and as much music as I can't play," he joked.   "They are a top heavy music station, but I assume they brought me on to add a bit of colour. When I was at MIKE FM, I learned how to bring my characters on and talk to them as if they were in the studio.  This should be an easier task at the Jewel.  I won't do weather or anything without a twist if possible and I'll be doing some odd stories as well, hopefully with an interview or comment from persons involved.  It's going to be something new for them and a new challenge for me."    
Both Bird and Tasso reside on the West Island.

Silver said that the feedback from The Jewel 106.7 is quite impressive for a station that has only been on the air for a month. “We have done some contests and our advertisers have really been surprised by the response,” he said. “People are listening.  We have been air testing since November, so that has helped attract an audience.”
Sylvia Asche Bullard

With local news during the morning and afternoon drives with Tanya Armstrong and Sylvia Asche Bullard, Hudson and St. Lazare are getting some great exposure.  As Silver points out, this is a growing area. The Suburban recognizes this which is why we have added this to our circulation area.

I shared with Silver my thoughts that a local sports talk show, perhaps airing late night, would be a great addition to the schedule. “Never say never,” he responded.

Right now the team from The Jewel 106.7 FM are working out of the Hawkesbury station – about a 20 minute drive. “We would like to establish a studio in Hudson or St. Lazare,” Silver said. “It is something we are working on.”